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Opinion | I was threatened, bullied after ordering masks in Michigan schools

The public ought to be concerned – deeply concerned – about the operation of its local government when it comes to public health.

Lisa Peacock
Lisa Peacock is the health officer for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan and the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department. She is writing and submitting this commentary as a private citizen. (Courtesy photo)

I serve as the health officer for six counties and two local health departments, but I write this as a concerned citizen with a front row seat to the destruction of our basic civic responsibilities to one another as exemplified by some of our own elected county commissioners who serve on the Board of the Health Department of Northwest Michigan (HDNW) which covers Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties.

I recently exercised my obligation to protect the public’s health by issuing a public health order requiring masking indoors in K-12 schools in six counties: Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego. In my role as a Health Officer, I have a statutory duty to issue such orders as my judgment and conscience dictate, based on reputable science and facts. The purpose of my most recent order is to protect the health of children and school staff, and the community at large, and in my judgment, it is supported by overwhelming, reliable medical evidence.

That being said, I do not ask to be popular, respected, or to have people agree with that order. Everyone is free to express their opinions and argue for change. That can – and should – be done in a decent, honorable, and persuasive way. Yet what I have witnessed recently is neither decent, honorable nor even persuasive.

Some HDNW county commissioners very clearly appear to be acting in concert outside of regular meetings, despite laws on transparency under the Open Meetings Act. Some have threatened me with termination. Some have falsely and publicly accused me of wrongdoing and have actively promoted elements of the public to “stand up" to me.

While those who support these commissioners' political beliefs have gathered at meetings and been able to speak freely, the same public servants have allowed fellow citizens who feel differently to be shouted down, intimidated, harassed and talked over. Meanwhile, the public’s time and money has been spent on empty, pandering theater, such as the 6-1 vote, in which the HDNW Board of Health voted to rescind my masking order without having the authority to do so. One commissioner encouraged lawlessness during that vote by assuring his colleagues that even if their conduct was outright illegal or wrong, “it’s OK, no one will take us to jail over this.”

Taxpayer money has also been dumped down the tubes, for example, as the Michigan State Police have had to monitor and react to social media for threats of violence to the Health Department. One threat recently brought law enforcement on site at HDNW in Gaylord and prompted multiple building lockdowns for the safety of staff and the public. Meanwhile, members of the public have warned me I am not safe, and I have had to be escorted to safety in the face of outright assaultive behavior.

In the face of such conduct, we are experiencing the loss of key staff who are valuable, skilled public servants. In addition, a member of the Board of Health has also recently resigned. These losses have financial and logistical costs – and also impact the public health of citizens across the jurisdictions of both the Health Department of Northwest Michigan and Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department.

The public is simply not well served by these tactics. Masking is an issue for today, but it will soon enough be behind us. Political manipulation is a far more lasting ill. We each have the power to ensure our freedom: at the polls when we elect those who represent us and listen to our needs. We can protect our freedom when we stand up against those whom we have entrusted with our votes when they engage in dangerous plans to obstruct duly appointed officials fulfilling their statutory duties.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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