Buchanan mayor to face recall vote

Published 11:28 am Sunday, May 5, 2024

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BUCHANAN — Berrien County Clerk Sharon Tyler has certified the recall signatures submitted against Buchanan Mayor Sean Denison and has called for a recall election to be held Nov. 5.

The special election will feature Denison’s name as well as the names of other candidates interested in running. State law appears to indicate that candidates must file a nominating petition or pay a $100 nonrefundable fee no later than 4 p.m. on the 10th day after the recall election is called.

Whoever is elected-or retained-with the Denison recall will serve the remaining two years of Denison’s four year term through November, 2026.

The Nov. 5 election will feature not only the recall election for Denison but for the two City Commission seats now held by Commissioners Larry Money and Patrick Swem who are up for re-election this year. The deadline for non-partisan candidates for the city commission seats now held by Money and Swem is July 23.

     Tyler and Elections Administrator Kathryn Klemesrud stated Friday that 396 of 532 signatures submitted on recall petitions against Denison were found to be valid. Recall organizers needed 380 valid signatures for the recall to proceed. A total of 532 signatures had been submitted on April 22.

     A letter sent to Denison Friday by Klemesrud noted that Denison had submitted written challenges to signatures on April 29 and reviewed those challenges before making the determination that 396 signatures were valid.

Recall organizers Carla Johnson and Monroe Lemay filed the Denison wording last December, saying that Denison should be recalled for suspending then City Manager Benjamin Eldridge in November after city staff submitted complaints against him. They said Denison did not have the authority to suspend him without the approval of the City Commission.

Denison has claimed that he did nothing wrong in suspending Eldridge with pay, that he had the authority to do so under the City Charter and was following the advice of the city attorney.

In a statement to the media Friday, Denison said it was unfortunate that “our community is once again being dragged through the media mud by a group of folks who could be using their talents in a positive way but choose not to.”

Denison pointed out that the recall organizers had been wrong last year when they said the city would be soon taken over by the state due to financial issues and budget deficits. “As we all now know, that was not true,” he stated.

“This time, the false accusations are directed at me personally,” he said. “While their recall was based on my suspending the city manager, what it did not state was that I suspended him with pay, at the advice of our city attorney, based on best practices of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, until a full investigation of the complaints against the city manager could be completed.”

Denison said he has no plans to resign, will be on the ballot this November and fully intends to serve until 2026. “I am not and will not be focusing on the recall,” he stated. “Instead, I will continue to focus my time on improving the community we all love.”

He listed a number of upcoming projects such as preparing for a large infrastructure project through the downtown, seeing that the completion of the new DPW building this summer and attending a ribbon cutting at the newly finished Victory Park pavilion.

He also plans to work with the LIVE Buchanan board to acquire Michigan Main Street status, move forward with the Buchanan Riverfront Master Plan, update playground equipment in city parks, and do everything he can to support the volunteer organizations in the community.

“I take my obligations as Commissioner and Mayor very seriously and understand the words I say and the actions that I take matter,” he concluded. “My commitment and dedication to this community has never faltered. It never will.”

Denison wasn’t the only city commissioner who has been the subject of a recall since December. Resident Jacob Brown submitted recall wording against City Commissioner Dan Vigansky last December, quoting Vigansky as saying he always refers to “Blacks, Mexicans and Indians as ‘you people’.”

Vigansky was also censured by his four fellow city commissioners in January over his informing Eldridge of the charges against him and other issues, with commissioners asking the governor to remove him from office. That removal never took place and Vigansky remains on the commission.

Organizers of the Vigansky recall submitted their petitions filled with 397 signatures in early March and the recall failed a short time later when the number of valid signatures was found to be 353 which was below the 380 signature threshold.