Ann Arbor councilor camping as a small business owner now admits she wasn’t
ANN ARBOR, MI – When Jen Eyer ran for Ann Arbor City Council last year and was elected to represent the 4th ward, she stood up as a small business owner.
She referred to herself as such when she re-announced her campaign in August 2019 in a February 2020 press release on her website and in literature sent to voters.
“Small business owner advocating public education, labor and civil rights,” said one of her mailers, describing her role at Vanguard Public Affairs.
When Eyer claimed to be a small business owner, she wasn’t actually an equity owner at the time, but used it in her campaign based on her expectation that this would happen.
With the Lansing-based political advisory firm now embroiled in a scandal – former female employees accusing owner TJ Bucholz of sexual harassment and Central Michigan University opening a legal investigation into the pipeline of students sent to work – Eyer distances himself from Vanguard.
She quit her job last week and made a public statement saying she is never an owner, officer or manager. She was an employee who did most of her work remotely and was stunned by the charges against Bucholz, she said.
Ann Arbor councilor resigns from political advisory firm due to controversy
Eyer blames Bucholz for the fact that she never became the owner and says he failed to keep promises to make her a partner with a stake in the company.
“Promises have been made and they have not been kept,” she said, adding that she never intended to deceive Ann Arbor voters.
Bucholz did not respond to requests for comments in the past week.
Eyer left The Ann Arbor News / MLive in 2016 to work at Vanguard providing strategic communications and public relations work for political, work, and corporate clients.
In 2017, Eyer served as the communications director for Gretchen Whitmer’s campaign for the governor of Michigan.
In December 2018, Vanguard announced that Eyer, the company’s senior vice president, had been named a partner with an equity stake. Their partnership is scheduled to begin on January 2, 2019.
Eyer said last week that they never agreed on the equity partnership, which is why she became a non-equity partner.
She and Bucholz went back and forth trying to become an equity partner for the city council “until the beginning of my campaign,” Eyer said, adding that she always believed she was on the verge of owning Vanguard.
“At the time of my campaign, I was still being convinced that we would agree on the terms of an equity partnership. However, it never came to fruition, ”she said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but now it begs the question: Was this part of a pattern of how he treats women?”
Eyer said her problem with Bucholz about the terms of the partnership pales in comparison to how he allegedly treated other women and she has empathy for them.
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Derrick George, Bucholz’s attorney, said in a statement last week that his client was confused as to why allegations of sexual harassment are shared years after its alleged occurrence.
“No formal complaints have ever been made in accordance with company policies outlined in Vanguard’s manual,” he said. “All other allegations of misconduct outside of Vanguard have not yet been reported to Mr. Bucholz, and there is no formal complaint or documentation to support these allegations.
“To stop the loss of reputation my client has experienced in the past 48 hours, he made a statement and apology for everything he said that could have hurt someone. This apology is in no way an admission of guilt for alleged actions that have been stirred up in Facebook posts. “
Some former Vanguard employees claim that Eyer knew of Bucholz’s behavior and rejected complaints, a claim that Eyer denies years ago with the exception of one employee who, according to Eyer, received an inappropriate text message from Bucholz. Eyer said she encouraged the employee to report it to management, she thought it was resolved, and when the same employee complained about another inappropriate text about a year later, she notified management, telling Bucholz she would quit, when she heard of another incident.
Regarding her claims of being a small business owner, Eyer said she wrote her campaign materials in the summer of 2019. Her negotiations with Bucholz were active at the time and she was convinced that the equity partnership was imminent, she said.
They discussed it until 2020, but negotiations were suspended after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, Eyer said, adding that she finally decided to end the pursuit.
“The negotiations were still ongoing and it was only after my election that I decided to just abandon the subject,” she said.
Vanguard’s most recent corporate records, available on the state’s website for a list of senior executives, are from 2018 and show Bucholz as the sole executive officer.
Eyer ousted Jack Eaton, the incumbent of the 4th division, in Democratic Elementary School in August 2020 and was officially elected for an unopposed four-year term in November.
Declined to comment on Eyer’s claim of being a small business owner, Eaton said she won the election and nothing he could say now would reverse it.
Eyer won the three-way primary with 3,883 votes (61%), compared with 1,863 for Eaton (29%) and 651 for Mozhgan Savabieasfahani (10%).
Savabieasfahani said she had problems with Eyer “spreading the wrong message” of being a small business owner. She pointed out that Eyer signed a promise of “fair campaigning practices” pledging to be truthful, and said how campaigns by people indicate how they will govern.
If voters had known what a “blatant lie” that was, “Eyer could not have been voted dog catcher,” said Savabieasfahani.
Eyer said she’s 20/20 in hindsight if she regrets advertising as a small business owner when she wasn’t.
“The intent all along was to get there to finalize all of these details,” she said.
Now that Vanguard is in an uproar, Eyer is grateful that her quest to become owner has not worked out.
“I am very happy to have been in a position where I could resign immediately and sever all connections,” she said.
Eyer said she is now organizing to start her own consulting firm doing similar work to Vanguard, independently managing projects and campaigns from home. Hence, she will be a small business owner shortly.
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