Ottawa commissioners spar over health officer choice during committee meeting
OTTAWA COUNTY — Despite voting to appoint a new health officer on Jan. 3, members of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners still have questions and disagreements over the process of appointing Nathaniel Kelly.
More:Ottawa County Board abruptly fires administrator, hires former GOP candidate John Gibbs
During a health and human services committee meeting Tuesday, Jan. 31 — which included most of the board — some commissioners raised questions and concerns over how Kelly was appointed.
Kelly's selection as administrative health officer was one of several surprise agenda items Ottawa Impact-affiliated commissioners introduced in their first meeting Jan. 3. His appointment was approved by the board, but has yet to receive necessary state approval to make the appointment official.
More:Ottawa County remains a community divided in most recent board meeting
Discussion on the subject wasn't initially on the agenda Tuesday, but Commissioner Gretchen Cosby moved to add a discussion item to the agenda toward the end of the meeting, during which she provided three pieces of information pertaining to Kelly to add to the public record.
As she spoke, Cosby mentioned she received multiple applications for the health officer role after Lisa Stefanovsky announced her retirement in August. She said, given her experience in the medical field as a nurse, she handled applications for Ottawa Impact.
Cosby was not yet a commissioner, but had won her primary in District 1.
Commissioner Rebekah Curran asked Cosby about that process and how many applications were received, to which committee chair Sylvia Rhodea said the board would not be "going back and rehashing the decision.”
Curran reiterated her question, but before it was answered, Commissioner Joe Moss posed a separate question.
Later, Rhodea — who chairs the committee — asked if there was any further discussion, at which time Commissioner Jacob Bonnema pointed out Curran’s question was never answered. Before Cosby could respond, Moss moved for a recess. After some contentious back and forth, that motion was voted down 5-4.
After the vote failed, Cosby said she didn’t “feel compelled to share the other applicants" given the "current environment." Curran asked how the applications came to Cosby and how many were considered.
“The application came my direction through Ottawa Impact,” Cosby said. “The number of applicants, I’m not 100 percent certain, I can’t really put a hard number on that, but I can get it to you.”
Zylstra, who was participating remotely, said Cosby had “no authority to review” applications prior to taking the oath of office on Jan. 3 — which Cosby admitted to doing. Zylstra said she “made a decision as a commissioner when (she) was not a commissioner.” Cosby said she reviewed materials in preparation.
Moss said all final decisions are made by the board based on votes during meetings and said he’s “spent the last two years making decisions.”
“I made many decisions prior to (Jan. 3). I spent the last two years, 2.5 years, making decisions, Commissioner Zylstra,” Moss said. “Are you going to attack me for my previous decisions to get involved in Ottawa County, to rally parents against inappropriate health mandates, to help assist citizens as they take back control of their government?”
Cosby said she made a personal decision on the matter, but made only a recommendation to the full board.
Kelly’s qualifications have yet to be sent to the state for approval as health officer. During Tuesday’s meeting, administrator John Gibbs said Kelly has the application materials and, once he submits those to the county, the county will “begin processing through HR.”
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Rhodea said during the meeting that Kelly was just provided the materials Jan. 30.
During discussions, Zylstra argued there's no vacancy for Kelly to be considered for, as Adeline Hambley is still the county’s administrative health officer. She was approved by the state in December, appointed by the previous board. There are state laws, Zylstra said, regarding the process necessary to remove a health officer, and the county hasn’t followed them.
“Adeline Hambley is our health officer and we don’t have the authority or powers to remove her,” Zylstra said. “At the end of the day, I just don’t see the vacancy for Mr. Kelly.”
“I guess we’ll have to address that when the time is right,” Moss said.
Rhodea said she has documentation of a legal opinion from former corporation counsel Doug Van Essen “which documents (the board’s) authority to appoint and un-appoint the health officer” and said she would provide that to Zylstra.
Zylstra said he's seen the document and disagrees with Rhodea’s interpretation.
— Contact reporter Mitchell Boatman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SentinelMitch.
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Ottawa commissioners spar over health officer choice during committee meeting