GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Attorney’s General’s Office says it is looking into a flurry of actions by new conservative members of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners that included the ouster of the county administrator.
“The Department of Attorney General is conducting an extensive review into the actions of the Ottawa County Commission’s January 3rd Board Meeting and will make our findings public upon completion,” a spokesperson for the AG said in a Wednesday statement.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners approved several last-minute agenda items, including firing John Shay as county administrator, installing John Gibbs in the office, replacing the county’s top health officer and closing the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department.
The statement from the AG’s office referenced the Open Meetings Act, though it did not flatly accuse the commissioners of violating it.
“AG Dana Nessel is committed to defending the Open Meetings Act and recognizes the importance of ensuring that the people’s business allows residents to participate in their government and that local and county governments operate in accordance with the established law,” the statement continued.
Earlier Wednesday, the Ottawa County Democratic Party said the actions of the new county commission were “terribly disappointing” and show not all are welcome in the county. Party Chair Tim Smith released the following statement:
“Yesterday the Ottawa County newly elected County Commissioners moved quickly to show that the county and county government will no longer be a place for a growing community to feel welcome. Instead, it will be one based on lies and one that is not living within reality.
“The agenda items yesterday were not addressing the concerns of the entire community but of only a few. For example, after the swearing-in ceremonies, the board’s agenda included removing the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) department sending a clear message that ‘everyone’ is not welcome here. Haphazardly added to the agenda items during the meeting was firing dedicated employees of the county and changing the county motto from “where you belong” to “where freedom rings”. To add to their opening questionable action items they hired John Gibbs as the county administrator, who 42.9% of the county voted against and elected Hillary Scholten to the U.S. 3rd Congressional seat in the November election instead. Is yesterday’s action in hiring the losing side for the race for congress a ‘swipe’ at the winning side?
“Although most of the Ottawa County Democratic Party members were hopeful for a smooth transition, with yesterday being the first day of the new commission to use as an indicator, it is clear that did not happen. Having so many drastic changes early on is terribly disappointing and yes, unfortunately, expected.”Tim Smith, Ottawa County Democratic Party chair
In a separate statement, the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce expressed concern about the commissioners’ “abrupt and unexpected” actions, saying the moves will “undoubtedly have an impact on our business community.”
It said the county “can’t afford” to lose its “favorable business climate” that has facilitated its fast growth in recent years.
The Chamber added it would keep working with elected officials “to create a community where all people feel welcome, and businesses thrive.”
“The West Coast Chamber is passionate about serving our 1,200 member businesses and representing all of the employees who work and live in the greater Holland/Zeeland Area.
“Ottawa County has been one of the fastest growing counties in the state over the last decade and was the fastest growing in 2021. Our favorable business climate played a role in this growth, which was driven in large part by Ottawa County being an attractive and welcoming community for all. And we can’t afford for this to change.
“Fair and transparent processes are fundamental to effective governance. The abrupt and unexpected actions taken by the Board of Commissioners at their meeting on January 3, 2023, are concerning and will undoubtedly have an impact on our business community.
“At the West Coast Chamber, our commitment is to educate our members on important policy issues, provide access to our elected officials, and serve as an advocate for a business-friendly environment.
“We will continue to work collaboratively with the elected officials who represent our area to create a community where all people feel welcome, and businesses thrive.Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce