OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The growing divide on the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners was again clear Tuesday, as a commissioner who recently left the Ottawa Impact majority dared the board chair to use his gavel.
The argument happened as commissioners battled over whether board meetings should include an agenda item for commissioners to discuss any topics.
“Sometimes I feel like we don’t also have the chance to comment and talk among ourselves,” said Doug Zylstra, the lone Democrat on the board.
He made a motion during Tuesday’s Board Rules Committee meeting that a commissioner comments agenda item be required at regular board meetings.
County board meetings in January and February had included an agenda item at the end of the meeting titled “General information, comments and meetings attended.” That agenda item was left off the most recent board meeting on March 14.
Board chair Joe Moss spoke against the motion.
“I’m not interested at this point in what you might call commissioner comments or commissioner free-for-all at the end of meetings,” Moss said. “We’ve seen where this kind of an open-ended discussion is best handled outside the board room.”
Moss suggested that if commissioners want to discuss something during a meeting, the topic should be added to the agenda.
Commissioner Jacob Bonnema, who recently left the conservative group Ottawa Impact that Moss co-founded, disagreed with keeping comments to agenda items only.
“I really protest this,” Bonnema said.
Moss interrupted Bonnema saying he was not recognized and picked up the gavel.
“Hit the gavel,” Bonnema challenged.
“Commissioner Bonnema you are out of order. Please stop,” Moss responded.
Vice Chair Sylvia Rhodea, who co-founded Ottawa Impact with Moss, said she was concerned that a commissioner comment section could catch some commissioners off-guard.
“It’s only fair to all commissioners to know the topics that are going to be talked about when they go to a meeting and to not be surprised by things added at the very end,” Rhodea said.
Rhodea took that stance despite making multiple surprise motions during the board’s first meeting of the year. It was Rhodea who added agenda items during the Jan. 3 meeting to replace the county administrator with John Gibbs and change the county motto to “Where Freedom Rings.” She also supported added motions to close the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department and appoint a new public health officer.
Zylstra’s motion to permanently add the commissioner comments section failed 6-3, with all six Ottawa Impact-backed commissioners voting against it. Zylstra and Bonnema were joined by Rebekah Curran in dissent.
Bonnema released the following statement Wednesday:
“Commissioner Zylstra made a motion to have the Administrator’s Update and Commissioners’ Questions placed on our agendas as standing items, which is a reasonable and prudent request, and a model that is utilized by nearly every local municipality in the state.”
“Eliminating the Administrator’s Update and comments from Commissioners, and suggesting during the meeting that an ‘open-ended discussion… is best handled outside the board room…’ is a unilateral rejection of Ottawa Impact’s Contract with Ottawa and an encouragement, on record, to subvert the Open Meetings Act.”
“Open meetings ensures the right to provide meaningful comments during scheduled County Commission meetings. Each published agenda provides instructions on how members of the commission and public can participate. Commission meetings and our comments are not free-for-all discussions, but neither are they one-sided affairs. It is our time to present, comment, make requests of staff and proceed in an orderly fashion.”
“Sadly, Commissioner Moss and his lockstep commission is silencing the elected voices of the people of Zeeland, Holland, Georgetown, Allendale and Grand Haven, just because he doesn’t like what he might have to hear.”Ottawa County Commissioner Jacob Bonnema
The next board of commissioners meeting is March 28 at 6:30 p.m.