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Benton Harbor city manager’s future uncertain

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- After city commissioners voted against renewing city manager Darwin Watson’s contract on Wednesday night, members of the Benton Harbor business community are urging city leaders to reconsider.

“If he walks out the door, all the institutional knowledge that is in his head will go out the door with him,” said Peter Colovos, speaking of Watson.

Colovos is a longtime real estate developer in Benton Harbor.

Saranac Flats on Main Street is just one example of many downtown properties he’s put his touch on.

Colovos has worked with a lot of city leaders in his nearly 40 years in Benton Harbor, including current city manager Darwin Watson.

“They need to not only endorse Darwin – give him a contract,” Colovos said, speaking of the city commissioners. “They should not only make [his contract] for a year, they should make it for two years or three years – and they should give him a raise! They should not only give him a raise, but they should give him additional staff to support him to be able to take the place to where it needs to go, relative to economic development.”

His message to city leaders comes after commissioners voted 5-4 at a meeting Wednesday night to not renew Watson’s contract for another year.

“I’m a little up in the air about it,” said Benton Harbor resident Cassandra Collins, who recently moved to the area from California. “I just want to see the city do better, like, far as managing their finances. And I understand we just passed the city [income] tax so, I’m hoping that all the things that they promised us in that city tax will actually help the city and get us to a better place.”

The recently-passed city income tax, the ongoing debate about how to welcome medical marijuana into the community, and a constant effort to bring downtown Benton Harbor back to life are some of the many reasons Colovos said Watson should stay put.

In 2014, an emergency manager who was helping run Benton Harbor brought Watson in.

City leaders regained local control last summer, which placed even more responsibility on Watson.

“His motives are pure and simple and he’s looking out for the betterment of Benton Harbor and its stakeholders, all of them,” Colovos said. “So he’s good for Benton Harbor and he’s good for all their stakeholders, whether they’re residents or businesses.”

Commissioners Mary Alice Adams and Juanita Henry called for Wednesday night’s meeting.

They were two of the five commissioners who voted not to renew Watson’s contract.

ABC57’s Taylor Popielarz reached both Adams and Henry by phone on Thursday.

Henry was not available to meet and Adams said now was not the right time to speak on camera about this. But both said they’re concerned that Watson may have too much power.

We also reached out to Watson’s office, but haven’t heard back.

It’s not yet known when commissioners will meet again to discuss this.

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