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Benton Harbor Mayor rehires Watson under new title

NOW: Benton Harbor Mayor rehires Watson under new title

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BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Monday night, city commissioners fired City Manager Darwin Watson in a special meeting, but today Benton Harbor’s Mayor immediately rehired him for a different role.

The commission has not given the public a reason for his termination, and residents are wondering why.

“Why was he fired? What did he do to get fired?” asked Benton Harbor resident Roy Young. “I pay taxes here, I live here, and I want to know what’s going on around here,” he said.

Mayor Marcus Muhammad voted against firing Watson and calls the commission’s decision an abuse of power. He believes election season has something to do with it.

“During election time or seasons, put on your seat belt,” the Mayor said in a press conference.

Commissioner Juanita Henry says there is a reason.

“We’re not happy with his performance,” Henry said.

Watson has served Benton Harbor through various positions for over 23 years.

Now, without an assistant city manager, the Mayor takes over the responsibilities and role of the city manager.

On Tuesday, the day right after the vote, the mayor hired Watson to be the Director of Public Works – and Chief of Staff to assist the Mayor’s Office.

The Mayor praised Watson’s time as city manager. He noted Watson had four consecutive balanced budgets, and highlighted a $4 million surplus, and mentioned the existing rainy day fund among other successes.

“His knowledge of the city and his management success. The city of Benton Harbor is in no position at this time to lose that,” said Muhammad.

But, city commissioners are fed up with the Mayor’s decision.

“The mayor just put our whole vote backwards,” Henry said. “it was out of line, it was against what the will of the body wanted, and it was disrespectful.”

The mayor’s new hire is further dividing the city’s government.

“It saddens me that someone would stoop low and it hurts my feelings that he would disrespect his own elected officials,” said Henry.

This all could be short lived as the commission has called a special meeting to appoint an interim city manager this Thursday.

The personnel and finance committee will oversee the search for a new city manager.

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