SPRING LAKE, Mich. (WOOD) — A Facebook page making fun of a small Ottawa County village has led to confusion, name-calling and even police action.
Lee Painter started the page a few months ago, claiming to represent the village of Spring Lake but posting some very unofficial content. The page included the village logo and an aerial photo of the village paid for by taxpayers.
“When people first clicked on it, if they didn’t know better, for all intents and purposes it appeared to be coming from the village,” Village Manager Christine Burns told 24 Hour News 8. “I can’t tell you the dozens and dozens of people that contacted us who really, truly thought that was our page.”
The page specializes in making fun of neighboring cities like Grand Haven, with a post saying it would be changing the Coast Guard Festival to a condominium festival. Another post says, “If you’re having a bad day, just remember some people have to attend Muskegon Public Schools.”
“Smack talking other cities, other people from other cities would show up and smack talk back Spring Lake. It was just a fun thing,” Painter said.
Grand Rapids got its share of shade. So did Holland with this edgy take: “Rich Dutch heritage with teenagers shooting each other with AR-15s”
“There were some very dark comments being posted, very derogatory comments about our neighbors to the north, their socioeconomic status,” Burns said.”That cost us our reputation because people are saying, ‘We’ll never do business in the village of Spring Lake if this is how you speak ill of your neighbors.’ That’s not funny.”
Burns said she was directed by the village council to take care of the matter.
“We reached out to the Michigan State Police cybercrimes division, we reached out to Facebook, we reached out to the attorney general and they all said, ‘We’re going to investigate and get back to you,'” Burns said.
That led to Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jason Kik, who’s tasked with patrolling Spring Lake, coming out to the Painter house.
“I had an Ottawa County sheriff’s sergeant at my door here and he was threatening me, telling me what I did amounted to fraud and that the county prosecutor was considering charges,” Painter said.
He agreed to change it to get rid of the logo and to clearly label the page as satire.
“That wasn’t good enough for him,” Painter said. “He told me, ‘It would be better if you removed the whole thing.’ And I said, ‘I don’t really think you have the power to command that. We have something called the First Amendment in this country.'”
In the midst of this brouhaha, the village manager put a post on her personal Facebook page, writing, “If you’re a booger-eating 37-year-old still living in your parents’ basement, perhaps you shouldn’t take on people smarter than you.”
Painter is a 37-year-old Western Michigan University graduate who has taught English in Columbia and lives with his parents, but not in their basement.
“This is a public official writing these things, which is concerning because it’s coming from the village manager of Spring Lake,” Painter said.
Burns became cagey when asked about the post. She didn’t deny that she wrote it and made no apologies, but said that she didn’t specifically name Painter. So is she referring to someone else?
“I didn’t say that. His name is not attached to it and he’s demanded a public apology and I’m saying your name’s not on that,” Burns said Tuesday. “He called me twice this morning. The list of expletives is way too long of the things that he called& me and he called my husband fat and my kids goofy.”
Painter said Burns was the one being rude in that call.
“Implying I live in my parent’s basement, told me that I’m mentally ill and probably should get on some medication and was laughing at me,” Painter said of the call. “They claim they’re upset about their reputation but really the optics of this couldn’t possibly be any worse.”
Painter says he wanted to let the page die, but after a visit from the sheriff’s office and a one-sided article from the local paper, he feels like it’s a matter of principle to keep it up.
“The changes are made, so in our mind, it’s over and done with. I mean, now it’s much ado about nothing,” Burns said.