MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A Muskegon County commissioner pitched a stunning idea this week that caught her fellow board members off guard: splitting the county in two.
“I’d like to make a motion to remove districts 5, 7, 8 and 9 from Muskegon County and pursue legal counsel to become our own county with independent governance — not included with Muskegon County currently,” Commissioner Malinda Reese-Pego, a Republican who represents the northeast county District 7, said during a Thursday meeting.
“Oh (expletive),” Muskegon County Commissioner Marcia Hovey-Wright, a Democrat from District 2, replied.
“It caught all of us off guard,” Hovey-Wright told News 8 Friday. “I mean, this was an idea that I think was ill-conceived.”
The move, which ultimately failed 7-2, would have essentially separated the regions of the county that are primarily Democrat from the regions that are more Republican.
“You know, I think Commissioner Pego needs to check into realities,” Hovey-Wright, whose district includes part of the city of Muskegon, said.
Reese-Pego had not consulted with the municipalities she represents about the motion to secede. She even turned off her camera during the virtual commission meeting as she did it.
“This is from me, as Commissioner Pego,” she said.
“Have you talked to your county, the municipalities that you are supposed to be representing to see if they’re even interested in something like this?” Commissioner Susie Hughes, a Democrat from District 3 in Muskegon Township, demanded.
“I said ‘pursue legal counsel to become.’ I didn’t say we could do it right now,” Reese-Pego replied.
“I heard what she said and I’m thinking, you know, this is like crazy. It was like the South seceding from the Union,” Board of Commissioners Chair Bob Scolnik told News 8 Friday. “Is that possible?”
The answer: It’s unclear. It’s never happened in Michigan and the state constitution gives little direction.
Scolnik, a Republican whose District 4 includes the Norton Shores area, hadn’t heard anything about the idea before the meeting, either. He did not support it.
“I’m going to call them ‘new Republicans,’ really Trump Republicans, they got fired up,” he said.
He said Pego and Commissioner Zach Lahring of District 5, which includes the southeastern portion of the county, the only two who voted yes, are on “a different wavelength.”
“I have an even better idea, OK? Maybe they should attempt to start a new country. Then they wouldn’t have to follow any rules. They can make every rule themselves. Make a new state!” he said sarcastically.
Lahring recently faced criticism from some in the county who said recent posts to his personal Facebook page were racist or otherwise offensive. They called on him to resign, but he said he wouldn’t.
The pandemic, Scolnik thinks, is causing a harsh division between his fellow Republicans and others in Muskegon County.
“They think this pandemic isn’t what we think it is. They think the vaccines aren’t real. They won’t wear masks. They aren’t getting vaccinated,” Scolnik listed.
“I can’t make sense out of this right now,” he continued. “I’m trying, but I don’t know where this is going. I am worried about Muskegon. I’m worried about the whole country. Maybe I don’t- I just don’t fit in it anymore.”
He and Hovey-Wright said the conflict is bringing out the worst in both sides.
“It’s been very frustrating,” Hovey-Wright said. “People are not at their best at this point. I mean, there’s a lot of frustration, a lot of things that are said that shouldn’t be said.”