A group of far-right local commissioners in Michigan who voted Tuesday night to defund the Ottawa County Health Department in retaliation against COVID measures is now trying to terminate the department’s head.
Adeline Hambley, the current health officer leading the department, has been locked in litigation with the group of six commissioners who now hold the board majority. During an eight-hour board meeting held Tuesday evening, in which more than 60 people gave public comments, the board approved a budget that will dramatically reduce funding for the Ottawa County Department of Health, Hambley’s attorney received notice that Board Chair Joe Moss will try to terminate her next month.
Moss officially filed notice of his intention with the Ottawa County Clerk’s Office on Wednesday. In the filing, Moss said the decision about Hambley’s future would be made at a hearing on October 19. He accused Hambley of “incompetence, misconduct, and neglect of duty” and of making “false public representations” about the budget process.
In response, Hambley’s attorney filed a motion in the Michigan court of appeals requesting that a judge order a stay on Moss’s proposed hearing.
“Moss, without the entire Board of Commission issuing the charges, intends to put on a sham hearing to fire Hambley,” Sarah Riley Howard, Hambley’s attorney wrote in the motion. “Appellants have engaged in additional, unlawful acts of retaliation against Appellee Hambley because she has communicated directly with the public about Appellants’ plans to slash the County public health budget in ways that would violate the Public Health Code and likely trigger other serious adverse consequences.”
In her response to the approved budget, Hambley released a statement Wednesday disputing the Ottawa Impact commissioner’s claims that funding had not been reduced. She said the new budget represented a 23.3 percent reduction in “requested revenue from public health.”
“These reductions include cuts to mandated health education, and nutrition and wellness programs, as well as a reduction in funding for one epidemiologist for disease surveillance,” Hambley wrote. “I remain steadfast in my belief that these actions represent unlawful retaliation against me and the department.”
Marcia Mansaray, the deputy health officer, told The Daily Beast that employees of the health department gathered on Wednesday to discuss Moss’ latest attempt to remove Hambley.
“They’re all really tired and it’s been a terrible month-and-a-half rollercoaster for them, not knowing if they’re going to have a job,” Mansaray said. “We spent an hour encouraging each other and talking and bringing up fears or concerns or questions about the future. And how we would do this together.”
Moss co-founded “Ottawa Impact” an ultraconservative group that unseated incumbent Republicans last November, following his failed lawsuit against the county over mask mandates. Since the beginning of the year, the ultraconservative commissioners have steered the county’s policies to the right to the dismay of other board members and public health officials.
The Ottawa Impact-affiliated commissioners have been attempting to fire Hambley and cut millions from her department’s budget since they took office in January. Hambley filed a lawsuit against the board members in February, saying they were attempting to fire her without “just cause.” She was granted an injunction, allowing her to continue working while the case makes its way through an appeal court.
The next court of appeals hearing in that case is scheduled for Oct. 11, eight days before Moss now proposes to fire Hambley. The court issued a warning at the last hearing on Sept. 5 that all parties in the case “proceed at their own peril if they take substantial actions before this court hears oral arguments.”
Moss did not respond to a request for comment.