The county’s top health official has obtained an injunction against Ottawa County. This is the latest round in the legal dispute between Adeline Hambley, the county’s health administrator, and the newly elected conservative members of the Ottawa County board who voted against emergency pandemic measures.
Hambley sued the county last month, claiming the new board members’ vote to appoint her as “interim” health officer was an unconstitutional demotion. Ottawa Impact PAC, a group that established in opposition to disguised mandates in schools, backed every single candidate for the board of education.
“The Health Officer position is not subject to at-will termination as a matter of Michigan law,” the lawsuit argues. “[Hambley], as the Health Officer, can only be terminated upon a finding of cause, after notice of the alleged cause and a hearing.”
In response, the county’s top attorney, who was hired at the first board meeting this year under new commissioners, with no prior public notice, claimed that Hambley had never been appointed to the role of health officials in the first place because the previous board of commissioners’ vote to appoint her was contingent on her passing a background check, receiving approval from the state to fill the role, and getting the board of commissioners’ approval.
The resolution that approved Hambley for the post on December 13 of last year did not include the final condition, board approval, as a distinct item. Commissioners opted to add it to the resolution this week, suggesting Hambley would have needed a second vote from the board in order to become the health officer officially.
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Jack Jordan, the county attorney, explained that the revised resolution was made so that it more accurately reflected what had been discussed at the December 13 meeting. “The resolution that was drafted … does not reflect the minutes, or the motion,” Jordan said to the incoming commissioners. “It was an error.” Former commissioners, though, have voiced their disagreement.
“I read the resolution. I have the resolution from the 13. We voted on the resolution. I don’t see the error in the resolution,” said commissioner Doug Zylstra. The new resolution paraphrases the words of then-Commissioner Philip Kuyers, who moved to appoint Hambley as Health Officer at the meeting on December 13:
“I’d like to make the motion to approve and authorize the board chairperson and clerk register to sign a resolution to appoint Adeline Hambley as the county administrative health officer, contingent upon approval by the board of commissioners, confirmation by the Michigan Department of Health and Human services that she has the required educational certificates and work background, and successfully passing the county’s background check process.”
Kuyers is no longer a commissioner for Ottawa County, but he spoke to the current board in public remarks at their meeting this week.
“I just want to go on the record as saying that when I made the motion on December 13 to install Adeline Hambley, that it was unanimous between all the commissioners and we had no intention of voting again to install her,” Kuyers said. “She was installed once, and that’s where she belongs.”
Some of the board’s newest commissioners were sceptical of the decision to reverse an earlier resolution’s passage and voted against it. “I think all of us up here as commissioners understand why this was brought to us,” said Commissioner Kyle Terpstra, one of the new members of the board.
“I believe it’s a pretty big Hail Mary. I don’t think it’s going to land. And I believe it’s probably going to land us in harder situations going forward.”
By a vote of 6-5, the board members agreed to amend the earlier resolution. Legal representation for Hambley included a reference to the vote in their request for a restraining order against the county, with the argument that the vote to modify the resolution was itself illegal punishment for launching the complaint.
The restraining order was issued by Judge Jenny McNeill of Muskegon County, who was given jurisdiction over the case because of her proximity to Ottawa County. The order will remain in effect until the first court hearing on the matter. The date set for this hearing in Muskegon is March 13.
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