OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Ottawa County residents are fiercely divided over the new board of commissioners.

The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners, now headed by Joe Moss and commissioners endorsed by Moss’ Ottawa Impact, a conservative Political Action Committee, held a meeting Tuesday night. It was the third meeting since the new commissioners were sworn in.

Residents came out in full force, with people showing up outside the chambers two hours early. When the doors opened up, the room immediately became packed. Many residents stayed outside in the overflow room.

A crowd waits before the Ottawa County Board of Commissioner meeting on Jan. 24, 2023.
A crowd waits before the Ottawa County Board of Commissioner meeting on Jan. 24, 2023.

The meeting opened with prayer. An Ottawa County deputy was then presented with a Life Saving Award, before the floor was opened up for public comment.

Sixty residents spoke during the public comment, which lasted around two and a half hours.

Some who spoke applauded the sweeping changes the board made with added agenda items during its first meeting on Jan. 3, which included ousting the county administrator and installing John Gibbs, ousting the health director, eliminating the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department, and changing the county motto.

“Keep up the good work. You’re a breath of fresh air,” one man said.

“Know you have the support of many of us in this county and I thank you,” a woman said, a comment that received applause from the audience.

Others accused the board of not living up to its promise of transparency.

“You have chosen to lead and make decisions in a vacuum and behind closed doors,” one woman said.

“You ran on a platform of transparency and then on January 3rd it became clear what a blatant lie that was. Even blindsiding some of your own contingent. It’s appalling. It’s disgraceful,” another resident said.

A Spring Lake resident blasted the board’s decision to eliminate the county’s DEI department.

“I want you to see my neighbor as well as me. And how will you do that? How will you know who is not being seen? If you cannot judge the content of the character of all people, a DEI office can identify who is being overlooked and who has that need,” the woman said.

But another resident thanked the board for the move.

“Thank you for grappling with and ultimately ending the DEI department, which was founded on principals that push divisive, identity-based ideology,” she said.

The Ottawa County Board of Commissioner meeting on Jan. 24, 2023.
The Ottawa County Board of Commissioner meeting on Jan. 24, 2023.

Many spoke about the board’s pick for a new county health officer, Nathaniel Kelly, who is known for strongly opposing COVID-19 regulations.

“I believe if anyone fairly assesses Nate Kelly’s qualifications, they’d have to admit you’ve appointed a well-qualified person for this position and I thank you,” one person said to applause.

As Kelly waits for his appointment to be approved by the state, he faced strong opposition, including from a longtime ER doctor in Spring Lake.

“When Mr. Kelly says he would give everyone ivermectin, that makes me worried. When he says he doesn’t think masks work,” he said.

News 8 has reached out the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on the status of Kelly’s appointment.

Many residents who supported the board said the majority of voters wanted bold change in Ottawa County.

“Your actions demonstrate exactly the bold leadership Ottawa needs,” one woman said.

“If we had wanted mild shifts, there would not have been this significant overhaul made. The voters were decisive,” said another.

But some say they’re worried for what’s to come.

“It’s not the way that we want things done in Ottawa County, so many secrets and so many things done in the dark,” one man told the board.

— News 8’s Madalyn Buursma contributed to this report.