MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — No decision was made Friday about whether to continue a restraining order that prevents Ottawa County leaders from firing the county’s top health officer.
A temporary restraining order issued on March 2 told Ottawa County and its commissioners not to take any action to remove Ottawa County Health Officer Adeline Hambley from her job until a judge could consider the legal arguments in play.
Hambley’s lawsuit was filed in Ottawa County but all the local judges recused themselves, so the case is being handled in Muskegon County.
Hambley was in the courtroom as a judge heard arguments in her case.
Outside the courtroom, she gave News 8 some insight into how the politics in Ottawa County are impacting work inside the health department for the first time.
“People are stressed,“ Hambley told reporters. “They’re concerned about their jobs and being able to do it.”
Friday’s hearing is just one example of why.
In February, Hambley sued the conservative Ottawa Impact-backed commissioners who moved in their first meeting in January to fire her from her role as the county’s top health official. Her suit argued that state law prohibits the firing of a health officer without cause to prevent the health officer from doing her duties. It says that the commissioners have not provided evidence that Hambley is not doing her job.
In a letter to Hambley’s lawyer, the commissioners’ lawyer argued she was never fully appointed to the role, saying her approval from the state — which is required by law — does not go into effect until April 1.
The Ottawa Impact commissioners voted in January to appoint Nathaniel Kelly to replace Hambley. That appointment must be approved by the state health department, which told News 8 on Friday it had not yet received his application. Kelly has been critical of coronavirus mitigation measures including social distancing and wearing masks.
Ottawa County Attorney David Kallman told the judge Kelly’s credentials have not been turned into the state and in fact the board is looking at a lot of options for filling the health officer job.
The board’s attorney claims Hambley’s appointment by the former board in December, before the new board took over, required a second vote once certain contingencies like confirmation of Hambley’s credentials by the Michigan Department Health and Human Services were met.
Instead, the current board’s attorney said the then-board chair simply signed a resolution once the contingencies were met.
“That as a subsequent action. Where was the open meeting. You can’t do that sort of thing without having a meeting. And doing it in open. That’s why it’s an Open Meeting Act violation,” Kallman said.
”We don’t think there was any requirement that was dropped and we don’t think the resolution was in front of the board and nobody wrote one that they weren’t authorized to pass or sign,” said Howard.
Hambley said the politics have made the job of overseeing public health difficult.
“I will say that it’s a department full of dedicated tough professionals that just came through COVID and are ready to get back to their normal work and normal public health duties and they’re dedicated to doing that,” said Hambley.
Judge Jenny McNeill, who heard arguments during an afternoon hearing, said she would issue a written decision but did not say when.