OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — In a Tuesday evening Ottawa County Board of Commissioners meeting, a motion passed in attempt to curb the long wait time guest speakers have to go through while waiting for public comment.
Over 40 people spoke during the first public comment session at Tuesday night’s meeting. Of the commenters, some people spoke out against what they called commissioner comment suppression. Some mentioned a lack of transparency and complained about limiting free speech.
In many Ottawa County meetings since the board made sweeping changes on January 3, public comment has lasted several hours.
By the end of the meeting, the motion to move correspondence before public comment was approved, according to Commissioner Roger Belknap. Commissioner Doug Zylstra said the motion was intended to help relieve the long wait before guest speakers make a public comment.
During public comments Tuesday night, some people spoke in support of health department and current administrative health officer Adeline Hambley.
There were comments for and against a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion office. Allendale resident Cathy Schmidt read a statement from a company called BizStream.
“A local Allendale company with more than 35 employees posted this on the website, ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) play a significant role in the culture and core values … We are better because of our DEI efforts and we believe Ottawa County is as well. Therefore, we are deeply disappointed in the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners to dissolve the county’s DEI office. We are happy to see our clients, such as Miller Knoll and others speak about this issue,'” said Schmidt.
People also voiced their opinions on new County Administrator John Gibbs and his request for an administrator aide with an increased budget for the position. Action requests for the community mental health board and the ground water board also made the agenda.
But most of the comments were in support of Nathaniel Kelly as the health administrator and discussed his qualifications. Nathaniel Kelly’s wife Kristen also spoke out in his defense.
“The residents of this county deserve the record to be corrected. Media outlets have made false claims, skewing the public’s view of whether or not he is competent and if Columbia Southern University is a diploma mill,” said Kristen Kelly.
Columbia Southern University is an online university based in Orange Beach, Alabama. The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners have said Nathaniel Kelly holds a degree from there in occupational health and a master’s in public health.
“Regarding Nate’s education, the media likes to point out that CSU is an online institution with for-profit status and lacks understanding of it’s accreditations … I couldn’t find any of these attempted attacks on CSU when the former emergency management director, who is also a graduate of CSU was hired in 2018,” Kristen Kelly claimed.
Ottawa County’s emergency management director from 2018 to 2020 was Nick Bonstell, who holds an associate degree in fire science, a bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety/chemistry and a master’s degree in public administration all from Columbia Southern University, according to his LinkedIn page.
“We shouldn’t treat a college that accommodates the lifestyles of active-duty military veterans and first responders as less than,” said Kristen Kelly. “Our county needs a gap analysis on our health department, and I know that my husband, Nate Kelly, is the man for that job.”
Several commenters voiced their support for Adeline Hambley, who was demoted to an interim administrative health officer position while the board tries to approve Nathaniel Kelly.
“I’m here tonight to support Adeline Hambley and the health department staff. In the Ottawa Impact majority’s ongoing attempt to diminish miss Hambley’s ability to do her job, you’re blocking the regular needed functioning of the health department,” said Cindy Spielmaker of Grand Haven.