OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Ottawa County’s path to improving diversity and inclusion efforts began with the former county board’s establishment of a Cultural Intelligence Committee in 2013.
Five years later, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion was born.
The DEI was tasked with creating and carrying out a strategy for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; partnering with local cities and townships; eliminate bias from county programming, processes and decision-making; supporting the work and strategic plan of the Cultural Intelligence Committee; and create a welcoming initiative to attract, retain and support marginalized communities.
But the new Board of Commissioners — elected in November and backed by a conservative movement carrying a grudge over the county’s enforcement of state COVID-19 restrictions during the pandemic and other issues — brought a new philosophy to the county building.
“Americans don’t need the government to tell them how to have a real, good sense of diversity and inclusion,” said John Gibbs, the former 3rd district congressional candidates who was chosen by the new Ottawa County Board slate as county administrator Tuesday.
The hiring of Gibbs was part of a shakeup initiated by the board, which also included firing former county administrator John Shay, firing the county health director, changing the county motto from “Where you Belong” to “Where Freedom Rings,” and closing the DEI office.
But those same efforts carried out by the DEI continue elsewhere in Ottawa County.
The city of Holland’s Human Rights Commission was established back in 1966.
“We think it’s the right thing to do and we think it’s the smart thing to do. It’s an investment in our community,” Holland City Manager Keith van Beek said.
And at a time when hiring and retaining a solid workforce continues to challenge companies large and small, businesses see supporting diversity and equity efforts as a good investment as well.
Reacting to Tuesday’s vote to do away with the DEI, West Coast Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jodi Owczarski released this statement:
“The West Coast Chamber is passionate about serving our 1,200 member businesses and representing all of the employees who work and live in the greater Holland/Zeeland Area.
“Ottawa County has been one of the fastest growing counties in the state over the last decade and was the fastest growing in 2021. Our favorable business climate played a role in this growth, which was driven in large part by Ottawa County being an attractive and welcoming community for all. And we can’t afford for this to change.
“Fair and transparent processes are fundamental to effective governance. The abrupt and unexpected actions taken by the Board of Commissioners at their meeting on January 3, 2023, are concerning and will undoubtedly have an impact on our business community.
“At the West Coast Chamber, our commitment is to educate our members on important policy issues, provide access to our elected officials, and serve as an advocate for a business-friendly environment.
“We will continue to work collaboratively with the elected officials who represent our area to create a community where all people feel welcome, and businesses thrive.”Michigan West Coast Chamber Of Commerce
Gibbs said the county will focus on other quality of life issues that will help companies keep and retain a diverse workforce.
“We’re going to be working with everybody to make sure housing is affordable and all of the other items on the agenda. And that’s going to continue to make Ottawa County an even better place to live, and it’s already good,” Gibbs told News 8 following Tuesday’s vote. “And that’s going to continue to attract people. That’s what companies really want.”
One thing Holland’s Van Beek is certain of is that just because the county chooses to close their office, the community isn’t giving up on the effort.
“I do not expect that we will have a lack of partners that continue to do this work with us,” he said.