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Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Ottawa County budget meeting ends with slashed funds, legal uncertainty

GVL / Aida Dennis

After weeks of deliberation, the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners reached a decision about the budget for the Ottawa County Department of Health for the upcoming fiscal year. While the meeting was happening, the Chair Commissioner Joe Moss electronically served Health Officer Adeline Hambley’s legal team notification of his filing for her removal. 

During the seven-hour session that lasted until nearly 1 a.m. on Sept. 27, county representatives spent over two hours listening to residents’ opinions on the budget cuts. Many of these commenters came directly from a community rally against the cuts which occurred outside the health department prior to the meeting.

The final budget passed several hours later in a 7-to-3 vote, a figure $1.6 million lower than the initial general fund request from the health department of $6.4 million.  

With the finalization of the budget, the culmination of efforts from the health department’s administration and the community to save the health department’s funding were felled, leaving Hambley trying to salvage the department’s programming while legally defending her own position. 

Hambley filed a lawsuit against county commissioners after they voted last January to demote her to Interim Health Officer and hire Jamestown resident Nathanial Kelly for the position. The court of appeals case to determine Hambley’s role as the interim or official Health Officer is set to occur Oct. 11. 

Commissioners Board Chairman Moss and now Vice-Chair Sylvia Rhodea are founding members of the “far-right fundamentalist group” Ottawa Impact that formed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic after they “unsuccessfully sued the previous board and county health officer over COVID-19 mitigation mandates in 2020 and 2021,” according to the Holland Sentinel

As Commissioner Moss sat in the public forum Tuesday night, his legal representation, David Kallman of Kallman Legal Group, informed Hambley’s legal team of Moss’s intention to move forward with her removal from her position in court. 

“Commission Chair Moss plans to file the Notice and Changes with the County Clerk at 10 a.m. on Thursday, September 28th. I wanted to reach out and see if there is any interest from your client to resolve all of her disputes amicably with one global resolution where parties can go their separate ways,” according to Kallman’s communication with Sarah Riley Howard of Pinsky Smith. 

Riley Howard told Kallman her client has no interest in coming to a mediation that would ultimately result in Hambley’s resignation. 

“(The county commission has) made very clear that basically a resolution in their mind is her quitting, and not being the health officer, and that’s what she’s not willing to do,” Howard said. “She has bent over backwards in my opinion, and worked pretty hard to compromise with them and give them the benefit of her experience. They have not wanted her there since day one. They’ve wanted to fire her and replace her with their own candidate, which is not how the health officer works under state law.” 

Hambley feels there is no room for compromise with the board of commissioners, especially when that compromise would sacrifice necessary services for the community, affecting her ability to uphold her duty to the community as health officer under the law. She feels the commissioners would also not want to “find middle ground” with her, either, based on previous social media posts from Moss.

There’s matching requirements and all these things in the budget that we work with fiscal to develop earlier in the year and we put into our system in May and so there isn’t a lot left that we’re able to compromise on,” Hambley told the Lanthorn. “We’re already at that bottom line. And ultimately, if they’re asking to compromise in a way that makes me not in compliance with the requirements of the law or statute, as I’m required, then it’s not a compromise that can be made.” 

As for what the laws and procedures look like, Howard elaborates that the county commissioners must prove that Hambley demonstrated incompetence, misconduct, or failure to perform duties under due process of law to justify her removal. 

In the filing, Moss claims Hambley fits this criteria, “making false representations about the budgetary scenarios, falsely claiming she was not included in the budget process, failing to cooperate in the budget process, and making false claims that encouraged and caused confusion, anxiety, fear and panic in the community.”

Moss’s accusation against Hambley were made following several public comments and media postings from Hambley regarding the commission. Following her posts, the administration terminated her access to the department’s media accounts.

However, Hambley indicated in a press release response to the budget approval she believes much of the data provided by Commissioner Moss is inaccurate. She explained the county is downplaying the severity of the budget cuts by taking credit for other city incomes they are not inherently providing to the health department. 

The health department is anticipating around $507,100,000 more coming from the state for essential services, which Hambley states the county commissioners are including in their claims of financial contribution. However, the commissioners office only contributes the money allocated to the general fund directly to the health department, and the funds received from the state for essential operation should not be included because it is an unfair characterization. 

The chart published within Hambley’s response shows the exact amount of money in the general fund dating back to 2001, and is hardly the second highest of all time, as commissioner moss claimed. Howard said Hambley aimed to first speak with the commissioners privately, however, traditional means were not “getting very far” which lead her to speak out via social media and other means.

Courtesy / Ottawa Department of Public Health

“She (Hambley) tried really hard at the beginning of her tenure with this county commission in January, to give them information about budget things they’d want to keep in mind. But she didn’t get a lot of response from them and then they hacked up her budget so she decided she had to go to the public directly and report this,” Howard said.

Hambley said the programs that will take the largest hit from the lack of funding are the health education and nutrition programs, receiving almost a 50 percent cut from last year. Hambley said in many cases, these are resources that could be utilized by GVSU students and student organizations. 

For example, the Suicide Prevention Coalition provides resources for suicide prevention and education that students may utilize. Other areas students might experience the effects of the limited budget include various community trainings, and limited hours or closing health department locations. 

The depleted general fund forces the health department to find outside grants to support some programs. Hambley expresses concern for this due to previous incidents in which the commissioners board declined sources for funding because they didn’t agree with the programming those funds will be allocated to support such as immunization, family planning or STD prevention. 

“When they (the commissioners) don’t believe that those things should exist or don’t believe in the science behind them it makes it a challenge to even attempt to find external funding or to maintain some of that programming,” Hambley said to the Lanthorn. “That’s concerning, what that means for public health and for our community (especially with the health department’s presence) forbidden at places or events that (the commissioners) personally don’t agree with. That is not good governance, and that’s not how public health should work.”

Previously, commissioners have expressed scrutiny for the health department’s involvement in some programming among GVSU and the surrounding community, specifically regarding sex education on campus and LGBTQ health.

GVL / Aida Dennis

Hambley claims the commissioners have targeted many of her efforts as health officer since early January, stating their “revenge politics” cause a negative impact on the community’s overall health care. She worries the commissioners’ political views could step on the overall health needs of the community. 

“The people in our community that end up paying the price for, sort of, the political machinations or retaliation, the revenge politics that are occurring here are the most marginalized in our community,” Hambley said. “Those are the people that are usually the least able to advocate for themselves, to have a strong voice.”

Hambley said her role as the health department officer shouldn’t be jeopardized because of the board’s political agenda. She defends her position as something that is not political and by law is based entirely on serving the health needs of the community.

“I shouldn’t be susceptible to the politics of whatever the board has. It should be valid for science and good solid public health principles and doing what’s best for the community to protect the community,” Hambley said.

Hambley’s removal hearing is set to occur Oct. 19. In light of this, her legal representation has since filed an emergency motion to expedite the case with the court of appeals, pending a final decision. 

Hambley advocates for a strong public health officer in Ottawa County. Not only is it in the “best interest for compliance with the law” but it’s also important to have a health officer that “follows good science” and “good health practices” for the well-being of the community, she says.

“They have a duty requirement under the law and the authority granted to do what’s right to best protect the health environment of the community, even if you know that is not in agreement with the majority board population or a majority board opinion,” Hambley said.


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About the Contributor
Emma Armijo
Emma Armijo, News Editor
Emma Armijo is the Lanthorn's News editor for the 2023-24 year. She previously worked with the Lanthorn for a year and a half as a news staff writer before joining the editorial team as the Arts and Entertainment editor in the winter of 2023. Emma enjoys all things creative like dance, music and drawing. Her aspirations after college include working as a professional in the dance industry and writing for a major print news organization, The New York Times. Graduating Winter 2025 Majors: Multimedia Journalism, Dance