GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Court of Appeals heard arguments Wednesday morning as a legal battle between the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners and Administrative Health Officer Adeline Hambley, who some commissioners want to fire, continues.
In February, Hambley sued the seven county commissioners who moved in their first meeting in January to oust her. Her suit argued that state law prohibits the firing of a health officer without cause to prevent the health officer from doing her duties and said that the commissioners did not show evidence that she was not doing her job.
On Wednesday, arguments in the Michigan Court of Appeals centered around two key issues: whether Hambley had been correctly appointed as administrative health officer in the first place and whether to reinstate all the requirements of a previous injunction barring Hambley’s firing or dissolve it in full.
David Kallman, the board’s attorney, told the appellate court that Hambley had not been correctly appointed. He claimed that when the commissioners approved Hambley in December 2022, they did so with three contingencies: that she would be approved by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, she would pass a background check and then, as a final step, the commissioners would once again approve Hambley’s appointment. According to Kallman, the second approval from the full board never happened. Instead, he said, the board’s chair signed a resolution appointing Hambley as administrative health officer once she was approved by MDHHS and passed a background check.
Kallman also asked the Court of Appeals to dissolve the injunction entirely, arguing that a key part of it had been already “vacated.” Kallman argued Hambley had demonstrated incompetence, “causing panic and problems in the community by giving the community false information” about the recent budget process.
Citing her public statements about the budget, commissioners have again taken steps to fire her. A document initially signed by Commission Chair Joe Moss on Sept. 26 alleged misconduct and neglect of duty and scheduled a hearing to determine whether to remove Hambley from her job.
During Wednesday’s appellate hearing, Hambley’s lawyer argued that Hambley had been correctly appointed as health officer. Sarah Howard said the board only intended to approve Hambley once and that December’s written resolution clearly named her the permanent health officer.
Howard asked the Court of Appeals to reinstate an injunction barring the county from firing Hambley until the lawsuit went to trial. She argued the Board of Commissioners would deprive Hambley of due process at the scheduled hearing to remove her from her job.
“We have defendants who have said to this court that my client is not entitled to due process in this hearing (for removal). … They have declared that she won’t be able to call witnesses,” Howard said. “I think it is overwhelmingly evident that this is not an impartial fact finder, that they have wanted to do this since day one.”
Howard said that on Tuesday, one commissioner pointed out that the hearing for removal notice had to include approval from at least one-third of the board, per Michigan law — but only the board’s chairman had signed the notice. Howard said the board decided to reissue the notice with at least four commissioners agreeing and reschedule the hearing for Oct. 23.
Howard asked that the Court of Appeals expedite its considerations of Hambley’s lawsuit before a hearing regarding her removal. With the board’s special meeting coming up quickly — even if it were to be rescheduled, since Howard said she had other professional commitments Oct. 23 — Howard said they were “running out of time for that relief.”
After arguments, the court said a response would follow “very shortly.” It’s unclear exactly when a ruling will be issued.