Saugatuck, Douglas & Fire Officials Say Aaron Sheridan Unfit For Township Job
It was a full house at Saugatuck Township Hall’s special meeting last week which ended with the Saugatuck Township Board declining to terminate Township Manager Aaron Sheridan from his post as township manager, but did vote to publicly and officially reprimand him and instruct him to address his anger management problems and do so at his own expense.
Township Supervisor Jonathan Phillips, who called the meeting and also called for Sheridan’s firing, was the only no vote (4-to-1) on the reprimand motion saying there was no question Sheridan deserved to be fired.
Phillips called the special meeting as a result of his own dealings with Sheridan and numerous concerns coming from residents and Tri-Community officials from various departments - many of them present at the meeting - about Sheridan’s “despicable behavior.”
For many, the township board’s decision to publicly reprimand Sheridan, put that reprimand in his permanent personnel file and demand he attend anger management/social skills classes did not go far enough. Many were angered Sheridan wasn’t fired for his “unethical, unprofessional and despicable behavior” and for his extremely poor job performance over the past several years.
Several local municipal officials also spoke out saying Sheridan and his actions have caused “irreparable harm” to the relationship between them and Saugatuck Township and that they would continue to refuse to work with him in future endeavors.
Many members of the public spoke at and after the meeting, while the township board said nothing as they voted to go in and out of closed session and taking action on the motions to sanction Sheridan.
“His (Sheridan’s) lack of integrity is amazing and appalling. He has a lack of integrity for his community and his job. Shame on you, shame on you young man. You have no trust from the people,” Tony Schippa, Saugatuck Township resident and 20-year former paramedic with the American Medical Response (AMR) of West Michigan, told the Saugatuck Township Board before it went into closed session to discuss Sheridan’s actions and behavior.
Among other things, Schippa accused Sheridan of being “deceptive” during the AMR’s (the one out of Fennville) bidding and renewal process with the township in 2015.
Saugatuck Township Fire District officers say they also have serious concerns that Sheridan has the potential “to become violent towards those that oppose” his views.
“On February 15, 2017, Mr. Sheridan was so disruptive and disrespectful during a meeting that Township Clerk Brad Rudich and Township Supervisor Jon Phillips ordered Mr. Sheridan to leave the office and sit in another room. How can the township tolerate such an ineffective communicator?” asked Saugatuck Township Fire District Chief Greg Janik in a prepared statement, read aloud, in part, by Fire Board Member Marilyn Starring because Janik was unable to attend.
A number of Sheridan’s other critics - including about nine speakers at the meeting - also publicly reiterated their concerns during last week’s open comment section of the meeting, resorting to the frequent adjectives used to describe Sheridan relative to his post as township manager: “unethical,” “deceptive” and “unprofessional,” among others.
Three members of the public spoke in favor of Sheridan, opining that he was committed to his job and that he had the township residents’ best interest in mind.
In an interesting twist, several township residents and officials reported that after the meeting ended Sheridan left, only to return a short time later to pick up an elderly man who had spoken on Sheridan’s behalf.
“Sheridan had to bring in his own shill to speak on his behalf. Then he had to sneak back to give the guy a ride back home. That’s typical of Aaron Sheridan and how devious he is. He’s pathetic,” said one fire department employee who witnessed the incident.
In another development that has sparked renewed anger among city leaders, fire officials and staff and the public, Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudich has attempted to place blame, in part, on Phillips for a profanity-laced, (F—- You) verbal attack by Sheridan against Phillips by saying the majority of the board “agreed that the manager and supervisor were both upset” at that (Aug. 2) meeting.
“The board thought that hurt feelings of the supervisor were not enough to justify ending the employment of the manager (Sheridan),” added Rudich.
One angry township resident who read those statements by Rudich called him “a horse’s ass.
“Rudich’s statements prove how detached he and those board members are from reality and how far they are willing to go to protect one of their unprofessional and frankly incompetent buddies (Sheridan). No one I know has any respect for those clowns any more except for Jon Phillips. Certainly not now.”
Making a link between Sheridan’s actions and what they see as an overall “unprofessional” running of the township, critics also publicly denounced several recent township developments they say were instigated or spearhead by Sheridan and Rudich.
They denounced the township’s recent move to remove Joe Milauckas, a distinguished public servant with 20-plus years under his belt, from his post as a planning commission member.
In another example, they denounced the township’s (Township Clerk Rudich and Sheridan’s) secretive work and recent decision to modify the fire code in way they say compromises fire personnel and residents’ safety and well-being.
They condemned the township’s move to also modify cost recovery ordinances, which now stipulates that for certain bills, the fire chief must now get township zoning administrator’s approval first.
Fire department officials and staff and other Saugatuck and Douglas city officials say Saugatuck Township Zoning Administrator Steve Kushion is by no means an expert on fire inspection, fire prevention, or overall fire safety, and as such, is not the appropriate person to make such decisions.
Saugatuck, Douglas and fire department officials and some members of the public also warned the township leaders that trust in the township government would be even more compromised if Sheridan is allowed to continue to hold his job due to his “ineptness” and “instability”.
“I believe Mr. Sheridan owes our fire chief (Greg Janik) an apology. Now I believe he owes a lot of people an apology, people in Saugatuck and Douglas,” said Saugatuck Township Fire District Captain Linus Starring.
Referring to Sheridan’s surreptitious tape recording, July 31, of an administrative meeting without the consent or knowledge of other participants, including Saugatuck, Douglas and fire department officials, Starring noted, “It may not be illegal, but, in my opinion, very unethical.”
Sheridan had few supporters speak on his behalf at last week’s meeting.
One was Saugatuck Township Parks Commission Chair Jim Searing who advocated for the embattled manager, saying that in his 6-year experience working on the parks commission—including 3 1/2-years as chair—Sheridan demonstrated to him to be highly responsible and particularly fiscally responsible.
“The taxpayer is the first thing that he thinks about,” noted Searing. “Aaron (Sheridan) gets things done… whether it’s a hole in a fence, or the five-year parks plan, or the DNR passport grant for River Bluff Park.”
A man who identified himself as Kevin, who said he was a long-time visitor to the area, also came to the defense of Sheridan and criticized the way the board—and the public—was going about the Sheridan issue, stating, “It seems to me to be everything short of tar and feather.”
At the end of the night, and following a closed-session meeting, Phillips’ motion to discharge Sheridan from his job with the township did not get seconded by any of his colleagues.
Rudich said the township board also encouraged him to work better with city managers (Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier and Douglas City Manager Bill LeFevere), the fire chief (Saugatuck Township Fire District Chief Greg Janik), Township Supervisor Jon Phillips, and the public.”
Those who rejected Phillips’ motion, but approved Rudich’s, were Saugatuck Township Clerk Lori Babinski, Trustee Douglas Lane, Rudich and Trustee Roy McIlwaine.
Sheridan declined comment after his public reprimand.
Many attendees were disappointed with the board’s decision, including Township Resident and Deputy Fire Chief Chris Mantels who noted, “His (Sheridan’s) trust is lost and that is not going to be regained.”
Asked about the township board’s decision to reprimand and recommend anger management classes for Sheridan, Mantels said, “Too little, too late.”
Before going into closed session, Saugatuck City Councilwoman and Saugatuck Township Fire Board Chair Jane Verplank warned:
“To ignore Aaron’s behavior any further only empowers him. The leaders of this Tri-Community will no longer interact with him or treat him with any amount of respect….you (the township board members) can come out of (closed session) and pretend this latest event never happened.
“You can truly lower the bar for what is expected from township officials. Your image is now corrupted. The court of public opinion will then take its course.”