OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Despite pushback from some board members, conservative Ottawa Impact PAC-backed commissioners on Tuesday approved about $37,000 more annually to create a new position to help the Ottawa County administrator.
New County Administrator John Gibbs asked to upgrade the executive assistant position to a senior executive aid and increase the pay from $94,870 to $132,219 annually. The position is currently vacant. Gibbs said the change is necessary to help him handle the increased workload that comes with a split board.
Commissioner Roger Bergman, a Republican who has never been affiliated with Ottawa Impact, questioned why it’s necessary and said the previous county administrator didn’t need extra help.
“These are things that were all taken care of before you came,” he said.
Jacob Bonnema, a Republican who announced Monday he had cut ties with Ottawa Impact, criticized Gibbs directly.
“We were told that you were overqualified,” Bonnema said, referencing comments by Commissioner Sylvia Rhodea at the Jan. 3 meeting during which the former county administrator was ousted and Gibbs selected to replace him.
“First of all, I never said that about myself. So I would recommend that you respectfully would ask those people who said that,” Gibbs replied. “Secondly, you are right that the previous administrators did not have this role, but that speaks to the fact that myself and the entire board are in a bit of a different capacity perhaps from previous administrators in that we are a bit more hands-on in the way that we do things. That does increase the workload of what we’re doing and that necessitates this position.”
“I think you recently accepted this job for the pay,” Bonnema said. “I don’t think this burden should be on the backs of the taxpayers. I ask you to do the job that you accepted to do.”
The board voted 6-5 to create the senior aide position. The six conservative Ottawa Impact commissioners, Roger Belknap, Gretchen Cosby, Lucy Ebel, Allison Miedema, Board Chair Joe Moss and Rhodea, voted yes.
“He is a new county administrator,” Cosby told News 8 after the meeting. “We have needs. He has kind of a knowledge gap there. He’s got a different model in mind as far as how we’re going to support the different departments of the county.”
Bonnema, Bergman, Republicans Rebekah Curran and Kyle Terpstra, along with the board’s only Democrat, Doug Zylstra, voted no.
“I don’t think it’s warranted. There’s a lot of question marks about what that person is going to be doing,” Zylstra said. “We had an executive assistant who did a great job.”
Asked if he had someone ready to take the role, Gibbs said no.
Cosby said she has proposed implementing a “productivity tool” for grants, a method that she said could be used by the new senior executive aid.
“So we have a quick assessment of what’s happening with grants we have applied for and we’ve received and that our community knows that we have an outcome (and) what those outcomes look like,” Cosby explained. “Or do we need to change our idea about whether or not we take the grant again? I can see somebody being able to support him in that way as well.”
The board voted 8-3 to remove Zylstra and two other people from the Ottawa County Housing Commission. Gibbs, who worked for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Donald Trump, was placed on the panel, along with Marcusse Construction owner Klynt Marcusse and real estate agent Jared Schuitema.
“We have a unique opportunity with Mr. Gibbs with his HUD experience to come to the Housing Commission and bring new ideas and perspective from the federal level to the county level,” Cosby told News 8.
Zylstra asked for the nominations to go through the talent and recruitment process. His motion failed.
“I’ve been really excited about the progress of the Housing Commission and the possibility it has for doing good work in the county,” Zylstra said. “I’m disappointed I won’t be able to serve the Ottawa County residents.”
Bergman, who voted against the changes, called them political.
“So we are changing the makeup of the board to make it more political. Is that correct?” he said.
“No,” Moss replied.
“That’s what it sounds like to me,” Bergman said.
“The answer is no,” Moss said.
“OK, it sounds like to me,” Belknap said.
Moss did not explain why he was suggesting the changes, except to say he “wanted to go in a different direction.”
“We did win an election. Joe did win his seat as chair. He has the opportunity now to place people that he chooses,” Cosby said. “Nothing personal where Doug (Zylstra)’s concerned at all. It’s just giving Joe an opportunity to have people on the commission that he wants.”
The next Housing Commission meeting is April 6.
Also during the nearly five-hour meeting, the board voted unanimously to apply for a grant to expand broadband access in Ottawa County. They said they would send a letter of intent in which the county would agree to provide up to $7.5 million and partner with 123.net for the project. 123.net, of Southfield near Detroit, was previously awarded the broadband contract for Allegan County.
Also unanimously, the board approved $572,000 to add eight full-time positions for community health. The money comes from a grant and Medicaid. Two previous positions will be eliminated.
Speaking to News 8 after the meeting about some of the divisive changes the new conservative board has made, Cosby asked the community to give the new board some time, saying she wants to make sure everyone is served well.
“See the steps that we’re taking, and it takes 12 to 18 months for any change to really be felt in a community or in any sense. Just give us time. My motivation is not to be ‘part of a voting bloc of Ottawa Impact.’ My motivation is to serve the people here in Ottawa County,” she said.
—News 8 executive producer Luke Stier contributed to this report.