New Saugatuck Township Officials Accept Resignation Of Township Manager
The mostly newly-elected Saugatuck Township Board unanimously voted to “accept the resignation” of controversial Saugatuck Township Manager Aaron Sheridan, following a one-hour closed session at the standing-room-only special meeting on Tuesday night.
The decision to accept his resignation and end Sheridan’s role with the township is a move that some current board members, members of the public and other government officials say is appropriate and long overdue.
“I’d like to thank Aaron (Sheridan) for his generosity. It’s the best move (his decision to resign from his township post) for all of us,” said Saugatuck Township Supervisor Chris Roerig after the board opened the meeting.
The board made no other comments about the matter other than that Sheridan’s resignation would be effective Nov. 16, that he would be fully compensated through Dec. 31, and that he would be available for consultation work Nov. 17 through Dec. 31.
In another development related to township staffing, newly elected Saugatuck Township Clerk Bill Wester who is a former long-time township official, voiced his desire to name Lori Babinski - a township board member that residents just recently voted out of office as part of a recall effort - as his deputy clerk, noting it was his right to do so under township charter law without the township board having a say on it.
While township rules and regs say the township clerk can appoint a deputy, it is the township board that has final approval of any person chosen for any township position as an employee.
Babinski, who just lost her bid to get re-elected to the township treasurer seat in the Nov. 6 recall election, would continue—if Wester’s wish is acted on in the near future— to perform administrative work at township hall as merely a staff member, not an elected official.
As if foreshadowing the township board’s action Tuesday night, newly elected Saugatuck Township Treasurer Jon Helmrich said before going into closed session:
“We spent hours and hours going door-to-door and we learned a lot about what township residents wanted during our campaign (for the recall election Nov. 6). There was an overwhelming turnout—that is a mandate; it is mandate for change (at Saugatuck Township Hall).
Helmrich made that statement in the context of voicing his desire for the township to conduct a “comprehensive study” of all township staffing, including board members, and their compensation. His colleagues concurred.
Sheridan’s resignation signals the end of what has been an emotional citizen-driven recall election campaign to remove four of the five Saugatuck Township Board Members from office—former treasurer Babinski, former clerk Brad Rudich, and former trustees Roy McIlwaine and Doug Lane.
Voters in the Nov. 6 election overwhelming voted to recall the controversial incumbents and instead voted for Jon Helmrich for treasurer, Abby Bigford and Stacey Aldrich for trustees and Bill Wester for clerk. They will serve the balance of what is normally a four-year term through November 2020.
Sheridan himself actively and aggressively advocated for and fought to keep his former governments bosses, including making Facebook posts, some with scathing criticisms about Saugatuck Township Fire District Chief Greg Janik and the fire department, the content of which has been unequivocally repudiated and refuted by the fire department administrative board, composed of members from the township and the cities of Saugatuck and Douglas.
“We all know what got us to this point. There is only one person responsible for what is happening here and that is Aaron (Sheridan) himself,” said experienced firefighter and first-responder Tony Schippa during public comments, referring to the numerous cases of unprofessionalism, outbursts of anger and swearing and other unethical behavior on the part of Sheridan.
For example, there is documented reports of Sheridan secretly tape-recording recording meetings with other local area governnment officials - with Rudich’s approval - under the pretext he “wanted to protect himself”; on many occasions he verbally assaulted local fire department officials and personnel; he became belligerent towards members of the public; he screamed and dropped the F-bomb during an argument with former township supervisor Jon Phillips and more.
Schippa said he appreciated all the comments from Sheridan family members and friends praising Sheridan and his work—including about a dozen people who spoke in favor of Sheridan and against his dismissal—but he added, “I have witnessed a lot of things, things (coming from Sheridan) that are not very nice.”
Schippa was the only person who publicly said at Tuesday’s meeting he wanted the board to dismiss Sheridan, noting that a “resignation” rather than an outright firing would not harm his future job-hunting prospects.
On the other hand, Sheridan had very impassioned supporters that spoke Tuesday night, many highlighting his “friendliness” and wealth of “knowledge” he had accumulated in his 15-year stint at the township hall.
“If it is possible for a person through admonishment, education, training and support to correct their behavior and continue to serve, this should be the preferred alternative over punishment. I believe the trustees made the correct judgment the first time around (when last year the board opted to not fire Sheridan, but instead have him take anger management courses),” said Larry Dickie, in part, from a prepared statement.
“While I don’t always agree with Aaron’s decisions, my personal experience has been uniformly positive.”
And Saugatuck Township Park Commissioner Andy Diaz, a re-election supporter, said that it was time for the township to be united, not divided. “Fifteen years of experience is not easy to replace,” Diaz said in support of Sheridan.
In a related issue, during Tuesday’s meeting, Scott Sullivan, editor of The Commercial Record, inappropriately and angrily yelled out “Did you hear that?” at a competing newspaper’s reporter sitting nearby, disrupting the meeting during the public comments session when a township resident was speaking.
Inappropriate and disruptive behavior by Sullivan at public meetings is not new for Sullivan as he has twice been verbally chastised and reprimanded by members of the Saugauck City Council in the past and ordered not to speak or yell out during ongoing meetings while officials or others were speaking.
Also in a related issue, Stephen Sheridan - Aaron Sheridan’s father - was roundly criticized this week by Saugatuck City Clerk Monica Nagel.
Stephen Sheridan has been waging an unsuccessful fight to try and convince both state and local government officials that The Local Observer newspaper is not qualified under Michigan law to accept government legal notices as it doesn’t meet the state-required advertising-to-editorial ratio.
The Local Observer editor and its lawyers have repeatedly refuted Stephen Sheridan’s claims and neither local not state officials have acted on the numerous complaints Stephen Sheridan has made on the matter.
In fact, the City of Saugatuck attorney, after being asked by city officials to review Stephen Sheridan’s complaints, found his arguments “legally flawed”.
Stephen Sheridan has long erroneously blamed The Local Observer for leading what he and other family members termed a “witchunt” that led to Saugatuck Township residents voting to remove the former township officials - Rudich, Babinski, McIlwaine and Lane - from office in a recall effort.
Stephen Sheridan is also now blaming The Local Observer for his son, Aaron’s, resignation as township manager as the newspaper has reported on many instances of his son’s questionable and verified inappropriate actions while a public employee of the township.
In response to Stephen Sheridan’s recent letter to Nagel stating he was now going to file a complaint with the Michigan Bureau of Elections in an effort to try and invalidate the recent local election results because the city had placed its legally required election notices in The Local Observer, Nagel wrote to Sheridan:
“Mr. Sheridan, I believe your letter to the Bureau of Elections is VERY misleading and inaccurate. ALL of the City of Saugatuck’s election notices were published as part of the entire county’s election notices, per the States requirements, in the Allegan County News by County Clerk Genetski. I have attached both election notices provided to all Allegan County Clerks by (Allegan) County Clerk Genetski.
“Please contact the Allegan County News for an Affidavit of Publication should you so desire.
“My suggestion is, in the future, I’d greatly appreciate you doing your research prior to sending out false and misleading information.
Monica Nagel, CMC City Clerk