OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — In September 2021, then a protesting Hudsonville citizen getting his one minute to talk to Ottawa County commissioners, Joe Moss said he came “with a message from the people.” That message: “We want our freedom back.”
Now, Moss is the newly-elected chairman of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners, leading a conservative slate that ousted most of the incumbents and in its first meeting booted top officials from their jobs.
Moss went from political obscurity to political power in little more than a year.
He is not talking about how he pulled off such a sweeping political success or how he’s going to use his newfound power. He didn’t respond to texts or emails and the last time Target 8 investigators tried to talk to him in person, he just quietly walked away.
What we know is Moss began protesting along with others who opposed COVID-19 restrictions during the height of the pandemic. His children’s school, Libertas Christian School near Hudsonville, was shut down by county health officials in October 2020 for violating masking mandates, kicking off a legal battle.
Moss is a businessman with web design and phone sales companies. He turned his frustration over COVID-19 mitigation orders into a political movement when he organized a group called Ottawa Impact. It unsuccessfully sued Ottawa County and then ran a successful slate in November 2022, sweeping the commission race.
It appears Moss kept tight control over the campaign. Ottawa Impact vetted candidates for their political views, endorsing those who signed a “Contract with Ottawa,” which outlined general conservative principles and some specific policy changes including opposing what it called “unconstitutional orders” by government in times of crisis and opposing the use of Planned Parenthood resources. Those candidates got financial backing from the two Ottawa Impact political action committees of which Moss was treasurer. He relied on a tight circle of supporters, including his mother, who put up $38,000 of the some $150,000 the PACs collected, according to financial disclosures filed with county government.
His partner in computer and phone businesses registered another LLC called For Liberty at the same Jenison address to handle web hosting, bookkeeping and other services for the candidates. For Liberty billed Ottawa Impact more than $60,000 for that work. State election officials say the law puts no restrictions on where PACs spend their money.
Former county board chair Matt Fenske was one of the old guard who lost to Ottawa Impact candidates in the primary.
“I was surprised that they did that well,” Fenske said.
But he said Ottawa Impact ran a strong grassroots campaign.
“They had large teams of parents and kids, this whole group over the mask mandates that would go out and hit a neighborhood and they would have 40 to 50 people, but they always have the same message,” he said.
Fenske said Moss was so confident of winning that he sent him and other commissioners an email with what Moss called a “humble request,” pointing out it was the last day to withdraw from the race and asking them to quit.
“He asked us to resign, peacefully,” Fenske said. “And not continue with the fight. I thought, ‘Wow, really? Wow.'”
Moss’s confidence and control were on display in last week’s first meeting of the new board. It appears only Moss and a few other commissioners knew what was coming after they were sworn in. They produced and adopted an unannounced agenda to boot the county administrator, health director, diversity and equity staff and county attorney.
The board hired a conservative law firm, Kallman Legal Group of Lansing. Attorney David Kallman has been involved in lawsuits against COVID-19 orders and rules: He represented a business owner who was charged with flouting the state shutdown and Western Michigan soccer players who did not want to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Some commissioners said the firm is more in line with the new board’s political ideas.
Others protested that the legal job was never put out for competitive bids. Commissioner Kyle Terpstra questioned Moss about whether anyone on the board was related to anyone at the firm.
“Family member? No,” Moss replied and quickly moved on with business.
What Moss didn’t mention is that his business partner is David Kallman’s nephew. Kallman told Target 8 investigators in a phone conversation that his nephew “has nothing to do with it” and that he’s never talked with him about representing the county. Kallman said he has known Moss for years and has discussed legal and constitutional questions with him on occasion. Kallman said he had several phone conversations about becoming the county attorney, only with Moss.