OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The Ottawa Impact PAC and one of the new conservative Ottawa County commissioners it backed in last year’s elections have split.
Jacob Bonnema told News 8 that he first notified Ottawa Impact corporate counsel around noon Thursday that he would be leaving the PAC. Bonnema said he got an email from Ottawa Impact Friday that the PAC “would not provide any services, resources, support or in-kind contributions to his campaign committee.” As of Monday, his website, which was run by the PAC, had been made private.
Bonnema, who represents the Zeeland area and part of Holland Township, responded publicly Monday by saying he would no longer get nor take support from Ottawa Impact.
“I ran on the values of government transparency and accountability and respect for parental rights,” Bonnema said in a statement. “At the time, these same values appeared to be aligned with the Ottawa Impact PAC. Unfortunately, some of the PAC’s leaders, who now lead the County Commission, have not acted in strict accordance with some of these values.”
‘TRUST WAS BROKEN’
In an interview with News 8 Monday morning, Bonnema elaborated on his belief that Ottawa Impact has not lived up to its promise of transparency.
“There’s been times where different commissioners have tried to ask questions of things that are very important to the people that the chairman (Joe Moss) has cut off discussion on,” Bonnema said. “And worked to make sure they didn’t find the answer, which is unfortunate.”
Bonnema was one of the new commissioners who had dissented in recent decisions linked to the battle over replacing the county’s top health officer. He said he has had a number of problems with how Ottawa Impact has run the county government, starting with the first meeting of the year on Jan. 3.
“I was led to believe that was not going to happen … so trust was broken from the beginning,” Bonnema said.
He said he was blindsided when the group got rid of County Administrator John Shay and replaced him with John Gibbs, a former Trump administration staffer who lost in a bid to represent Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District. The group also moved to oust Adeline Hambley, the top health officer, and eliminated the county’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department.
Bonnema told News 8 he missed the Jan. 3 meeting because he was on family vacation and was told no major actions were going to be taken. He said he asked Moss, also the Ottawa Impact co-founder, if he should come back but Moss encouraged him to stay, telling him “family time is very important.”
When Bonnema found out what happened at the meeting, he said he was in “shock.”
“Because that’s not how I think transparent governance works,” Bonnema said.
“That would have been very difficult for me if this had been sprung on Jan. 3 to go along with because they were all surprise names,” he continued. “They were added to the agenda during the meeting. I firmly agree that’s the wrong way to do agendas.”
Moss did not respond to a request for comment. No one came to the door of his Jenison business when News 8 went there Monday seeking his side of the story, though there were people inside.
BONNEMA INITIALLY IMPRESSED BY MOSS
Bonnema first met Moss over dinner in summer of 2021, impressed with how Moss took action after his children’s school was shut down for violating the state mask mandate.
“I was really impressed that he was willing to actually do something,” Bonnema recalled. “A lot of people will go through something difficult and be a victim. But he was actually willing to stand up and say this was wrong and talk to his neighbors and rally them together.”
In spring of 2022, Moss asked Bonnema to run for county commissioner. Bonnema signed Ottawa Impact’s contract, resonating with the conservative values it listed and a change in direction.
“We campaigned together over the summer for transparency, good governance, and allowing accessibility to the government the way that we thought would improve it,” Bonnema said.
But he says Ottawa Impact has fallen short of that vision.
“I have asked them to submit to the process of good governance of transparency,” he said. “I keep believing that’s going to change. But even in (Tuesday’s) meeting, at the end of the agenda, they’ve removed the commissioner comment section. So commissioners like myself no longer have an opportunity to ask questions of administration like they traditionally have for years.”
THE LAST STRAW
The turning point for Bonnema happened in late February, when Ottawa Impact commissioners changed a resolution passed by the previous board that made Hambley the county’s top health officer. Hambley has sued the board for trying to oust her. Bonnema, like fellow commissioners Republican Roger Bergman and Democrat Doug Zylstra, said the vote was meant to deflect the lawsuit.
“This last vote that took place where the commissioners voted to revise history in order to create an opportunity for more favorable court situation with ongoing litigation,” Bonnema said. “They’re revising a prior commission’s vote. I didn’t like that at all. I spoke out heavily against that. I felt that really crossed the line. I would say that was the final straw for me.”
Bonnema’s mind was made up Thursday when he told Ottawa Impact’s corporate counsel he was splitting from the group. The next day, the group emailed him saying it stopped supporting his campaign. It did not provide a reason and the email was not signed.
A release explained the Friends of Jacob Bonnema organization will be separate from Ottawa Impact but will continue to “support traditional, conservative values — free speech, free markets, no medical mandates without informed consent, low takes, pro-life, pro-family, pro-business, full support of public safety and the individual right to keep and bear arms.”
He joins a group of five commissioners not affiliated with Ottawa Impact: Republicans Bergman, Kyle Terpstra and Rebekah Curran, and Democrat Zylstra. Curran confirmed to News 8 that she was previously involved with Ottawa Impact but left last spring and did not take campaign money from the PAC. Terpstra never signed Ottawa Impact’s contract and never took their money.
Conservative commissioners had already showed signs of division over Hambley’s ouster, with Curran and Bonnema raising questions in late January about how Nathaniel Kelly — who has criticized COVID-19 mitigation measures like wearing masks and social distancing — was picked to replace her. His application came through Ottawa Impact.
“I truly believe that how you do things can overshadow what you’re trying to accomplish,” Bonnema told News 8. “And that’s what’s happening.”
‘TIME TO STAND UP FOR TRANSPARENCY’
Bonnema said he hasn’t changed his core beliefs and he still firmly supports conservative values.
“It’s just a disagreement of how to do business,” he said. “We both want to get to the same destination, I believe. But how we get there matters to me.”
He left because he says “it’s time to stand up for transparency.”
“Today is me putting a stake in the ground to say this is important,” Bonnema said. “Our conservative values are important but how we achieve them is important.”
The board of commissioners is set to meet Tuesday morning at 9 a.m.
Bonnema said he still wants to work with Ottawa Impact-endorsed commissioners to make positive change.
“It’s been frustrating because I want to work with them, I want to see as much unity on the board as possible,” he said. “Not everything’s politics. Good business is good business.”
“I am for working together,” he added. “I will continue to reach out to them. I will continue to ask them their opinion.”