OLIVE TOWSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Adeline Hambley will remain in charge of the Ottawa County health department for at least another week after a vote on whether to fire her was postponed again.
The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners is expected to reconvene at 9 a.m. Nov. 6 for a vote.
It had been expected to happen at a hearing on Monday morning. Hambley’s supporters protested outside the County Administration Building in West Olive beforehand, holding signs that read, “We believe in Adeline.”
“I know she’s supporting us, so being out here supporting her is just one small way that we can show her that not everybody believes what some of those commissioners believe, that she’s done a poor job,” Adrea Hill of Holland Township, who was among the residents defending Hambley, told News 8.
The meeting ended up lasting just three minutes. Board Chair Joe Moss said he emailed commissioners Sunday evening telling them he would move to delay the vote.
“I believe it’s in the best interest to give everybody enough time to continue reviewing all of the copious amounts of information and answer any questions they have, to recess this meeting a little bit longer,” Moss said.
His motion passed with a majority voice vote.
Several members of the public in attendance were upset by the move, yelling at Moss and other commissioners.
“Shame on you, Joe Moss,” one man shouted.
Hambley told News 8 after the meeting that she expects the board to fire her. She said she would spend the next week working with staff to organize a smooth transition if she is removed.
“They voted to remove me on Jan. 3, so I think it’s not unexpected,” Hambley said. “What’s unexpected is this delaying and carrying it out and the complete circus we’re operating in right now.”
“It’s very telling, disheartening they’re putting it off again to vote and actually make a decision,” Hambley continued. “They should’ve been very sure of what they were doing before they brought charges like these.”
Hambley’s attorney, Sarah Howard, said she was “stunned” when she learned Sunday evening the hearing could be delayed.
“I’m not sure what else there is to be learned over the next week, frankly,” Howard said. “All of their reactions last week to me made it fairly clear they knew what they were doing and why they were doing it.”
Hambley is charged with misconduct, incompetence and neglect of duty for telling the public in August that the health department would be forced to close because of a proposed 60% budget cut. The proposal would have limited the general fund dollars to the health department to $2.5 million. Hambley argued the public deserved to know the proposed cut could have eliminated essential services.
Commissioners and Administrator John Gibbs ultimately decided the health department would get about $4.8 million from the general fund. The health department’s total allocation for the fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, was less than the previous year.
A hearing for Hambley’s removal unfolded over two days last week, with more than a dozen hours of testimony from 10 witnesses. Under questioning from Hambley’s attorney, Gibbs argued that Hambley spread fear in the community by making claims before the budget was finalized.
“Going to the public and going to the press through something that is still in process and not finalized yet, again, I think is highly responsible,” Gibbs said.
Commissioner Gretchen Cosby said last week the health department closing “would never have been an option.”
“That was never, ever going to be the case,” she said. “I would have publicly fought that.”
Hambley also claimed she was cut out of the budget process. Gibbs maintained he communicated with her through a fiscal services liaison, while Hambley countered that worker doesn’t have public health experience.
The county’s attorney, David Kallman, did not call any of his own witnesses, but in a closing argument said that the evidence presented by Howard actually disproved her own arguments.
“Ms. Howard just spent hours today … going after email after email after email, showing her (Hambley’s) involvement (in the budgeting process) while she claims she wasn’t,” Kallman said. “She was not cut out of the process, yet she told the public that she was.”
Cosby, who was endorsed by the conservative group Ottawa Impact, on Wednesday asked for a recess to review the evidence before voting on Hambley’s future as top health officer. Commissioners ultimately voted to postpone the decision until Monday morning to have more time to think things over.
For months, Hambley has been embroiled in a legal battle with Ottawa Impact commissioners who moved in their first meeting in January to oust her. In a lawsuit against them filed in February, she argued they were violating state law that requires a board to show cause to fire a health officer. The commissioners, in turn, argued that Hambley’s appointment was never finalized, so she isn’t technically the health officer. The Michigan Court of Appeals finally ruled that Hambley was rightfully appointed, but also that the board may fire her if it can prove cause under state law.
The county recently submitted an application to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to approve the appointment of Nathaniel Kelly to replace Hambley, but a letter from MDHHS to Gibbs last week informed him that the agency could not consider Kelly while Hambley remained in office. Kelly, who works as a safety manager at a Grand Rapids heating and cooling system service and repair company, previously criticized COVID-19 mitigation measures like wearing masks and social distancing.
—News 8’s Rachel Van Gilder contributed to this report.