Saugatuck City Attorney Review Finds The Claims By Former Judge Stephen Sheridan That The Local Observer Is Not Legally Qualified To Accept Governmental Legal Notices Is "Flawed" & "Without Legal Merit"
The City of Saugatuck attorney has issued a finding that claims by former Allegan County District Judge StepJudghen Sheridan, the father of Saugatuck Township Manager Aaron Sheridan, against The Local Observer as being an “unqualified newspaper’ to accept governmental legal notices are “flawed” and “without legal merit.”
The city attorney’s letter dated October 5, 2018 was obtained by The Local Observer through a state Freedom of Information Act request. (See full letter accompanying this article).
Stephen Sheridan has repeatedly claimed the Observer doesn’t meet Michigan law that requires a newspaper to average at least 25% editorial content over the course of a year before local governments and schools can place their legal notices in the publication.
Stephen Sheridan also has used what critics have described as “scare tactics” to get the City of Saugatuck and others to stop advertising their legal notices in the Observer or face having such legal proceedings as the upcoming Nov. 6 election for the local area declared invalid because they weren’t properly noticed in a qualified newspaper.
This same false argument by Stephen Sheridan has been used periodically in the past by the Observer’s local competition - The Commercial Record (notably by its advertising salesperson Bill McIlwaine who was previously fired by the Observer before he went to work for the competition - all to no avail as well and without any legal substantiation to back up their claims.
The Local Observer Editor Mike Gallagher says he believes Stephen Sheridan’s continually making inaccurate and misleading claims against the newspaper stems from the Observer’s past and ongoing news coverage of his son, Aaron, and his questionable actions as Saugatuck Township Manager and the newspaper’s reporting on the actions of Aaron’s bosses - Township Clerk Brad Rudich, Treasurer Lori Babinski and board members Doug Lane and Roy McIlwaine, father of Bill McIlwaine.
Aaron Sheridan has been publicly reprimanded by his own bosses on the township board and ordered to undergo anger management classes after then-Township Supervisor Jon Phillips brought charges against him of insubordination, using the F-word in a verbal attack on Phillips and other actions that Phillips called unethical and in violation of township rules and regulations.
As a result of Aaron Sheridan’s behavior and actions and what several Saugatuck Township residents, along with other governmental officials have called “questionable, unprofessional, secretive and devisive” behavior as well as decisions by Rudich, Babinski, Lane and McIlwaine on myriad public issues, a local township group called Saugatuck Township Recall obtained hundreds of township residents’ signatures to place a recall vote on the ballot for the Nov. 6 election to remove those four from office.
Critics of the current board, including members of the Saugatuck Township Recall group, say it is anticipated that if the current township board members are removed from office, a new slate of elected officials would remove Aaron Sheridan from his job as township manager due to his past violations of ethical and other township rules and regulations which led to his public reprimand.
A slate of opponents - Stacey Aldrich, Jon Helmrich, Abby Bigford and former Township Supervisor Bill Wester - are running to replace Rudich, Babinski, Lane and McIlwaine.
Both Stephen Sheridan, his wife Tanya, Aaron Sheridan and the township board members being recalled, have, says Gallagher, erroneously called the effort to oust them from office “a witch hunt” led by the Observer.
Gallagher says the Observer never had any role in the creation, operations or efforts by Saugatuck Township Recall to remove the current township board members or Aaron Sheridan from office.
“Our job is to print the true and accurate facts about the actions of public officials so the public can know what is going on with their government and we have done that - and will continue to do that - in the case of the Saugatuck Township Board members and their manager.”
Gallagher says the efforts by Stephen Sheridan to get the City of Saugatuck to stop putting legal notices in the Observer by claiming the newspaper is not legally qualified to print those notices “pure and simply, in my opinion, is the result of our accurate and ongoing reporting of the actions of their son and the township board members.
“They don’t have to like being reported on for their actions and decisions that impact the public, but that does not give them the right to make false claims about our newspaper as pointed out by the Saugatuck City Attorney in his letter of Oct. 5,” says Gallagher.
When called Wednesday by The Local Observer for his comments about the Saugatuck City Attorney’s letter and findings, Stephen Sheridan said, “No comment.”
Apparently not satisfied with the responses he also received from the State of Michigan Attorney General’s Office and others he has sent his complaint to which chose not to investigate his claims after reading his complaint and so-called “audit”, including the recent City of Saugatuck Attorney’s findings, Stephen Sheridan sent an Oct. 8 email to Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier, calling City Attorney Sluggett’s opinion “an absurdity.”
“I would seriously suggest the (sic) you and the City Council review this matter for additional legal advice,” wrote Stephen Sheridan.
Stephen Sheridan, in his email, said he also has sent his complaint to the State of Michigan Bureau of Elections and is awaiting its response.
“Bob Genetski, the county clerk, is in charge of overseeing elections in this county. This is going to put Bob in a very difficult position,” wrote Stephen Sheridan.
Saugatuck City Manager Harrier said as far as the city is concerned, the matter is closed.
In a related matter, Sheridan and his wife Tanya, have filed a defamation lawsuit against the Observer claiming an editorial and news story defamed them.
Stephen Sheridan claims, among other things, that an Observer editorial that referred to him and his son, Aaron as “daddy and sonny boy” constitutes defamation.
Tanya Sheridan also claims that an Observer report about her visiting the home of a Saugatuck Township Recall supporter and verbally berating him put her in a bad light and embarrassed her.
The Observer and its attorneys say they stand by its reporting as provably accurate and substantiated.