FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
News from Progress Michigan
March 8, 2023
Contact: Sam Inglot, 616-916-0574, firstname.lastname@example.org
Complaint Filed Over Ottawa County Board of Commissioners Open Meetings Action Violation
From the actions in their first meeting, it was clear commissioners-elect, members of the right-wing group Ottawa Impact, had conducted County business outside meetings
MICHIGAN – A complaint has been filed today in the Circuit Court for Ottawa County regarding the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners’ violations of the Open Meetings Act (OMA) and the Michigan Constitution. The complaint follows recent Freedom of Information Act requests Progress Michigan filed regarding the Commission’s—and specifically the Ottawa Impact members of the Commission’s—actions on their first meeting in January.
Progress Michigan assisted with research and financial support for the case. The plaintiffs in the suit are Peter Armstrong, Sr., Susan Hoekema, Jason Hunter and Jeffrey Padnos, who are residents of Ottawa County seeking to ensure their public representatives comply with the OMA and the State Constitution.
“Despite their cries for government transparency, Ottawa Impact has shown from the very beginning that they prefer to make their most sweeping decisions under the cloak of secrecy,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “Michigan’s laws, and our Constitution, are in place to ensure the public have input in the decisions being made by their representatives. By choosing to conceal their agenda and decision-making from the residents of Ottawa County, the Ottawa Impact majority running the Commission has violated the Open Meetings Act and they must be held accountable.”
The complaint seeks to invalidate all decisions made by the Commission on January 3, in addition to other remedies.
The complaint states that the nine members of Ottawa Impact elected to the Commission were a de facto public body subject to OMA from November 9, 2022 until January 3, 2023 because during that period they 1) constituted a majority and quorum of the incoming Ottawa County Commission, being 9 of 11 members; 2) they performed government functions by meeting and communicating in person or electronically to deliberate and make decisions on public policy; and 3) they exercised government authority by directing Ottawa County employees to carry out their decisions; and 4) Ottawa County employees obeyed their orders.
The complaint includes the following points of evidence:
- Two months before officially taking office, Ottawa Impact announced their plan to elect Ottawa Impact leader Joe Moss as Commission Chair, a position with significant authority including running Commission meetings and drafting Commission rules.
- Moss did not wait to be officially elected Commission chair before exercising that authority. On December 28, 2022, before any Ottawa Impact commissioners-elect were sworn into office, Moss distributed his Commission rules, his committee assignments, and his Commission meeting schedule.
- In addition, prior to taking office, the Ottawa Impact commissioners-elect decided to:
- fire County Administrator John Shay and replace him with John Gibbs, without a public notice or public interview.
- fire County Corporation Counsel Doug Van Essen and hire the Kallman Legal Group as corporation counsel.
- fire Robyn Afrik of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office, and directed then-County Administrator Shay to prepare and execute a severance agreement for Afrik.
- abolish Ottawa County’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office.
- fire Ottawa County Health Officer Lisa Stefanovsky and her successor Adeline Hambly, while hiring Nathaniel Kelly as their replacement.
- At their first official Commission meeting on January 3, the Ottawa Impact commissioners implemented their previously made secret decisions, all of which were missing from the initial agenda posted for the meeting, denying community members the opportunity to speak on those issues.
“Progress Michigan has long been a champion for transparency and as we head into ‘Sunshine Week’ our commitment to honest and open government continues. We’re happy to assist Ottawa County residents in their pursuit of justice in this case,” Scott concluded.
A full copy of the complaint can be found here.