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After high-profile feud, Ottawa County health leader to stay put

sign for ottawa county building
A bitter fight over control of the Ottawa County Department of Public Health began with pandemic-era orders. (Bridge photo by Brett Farmer)
  • Following a feud that gained national attention, the Ottawa County health officer will remain on the job.
  • A judge will determine what could be hefty legal fees, but Adeline Hambley won’t get any payout to resign.
  • While the current legal fight has ended, the larger cultural war likely moves to the ballot box.

Ottawa County Health Officer Adeline Hambley will keep her job, after all.

More than a year after the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners tried to fire her, battled with her in court and then reportedly offered her money to leave, the commissioners voted 11-0 Monday to let her keep her role, after all.


“Neither side got everything they wanted, but they got enough that they could live with it,” said David Kallman, of Kallman Legal Group, which represented the county.

The five-page settlement, filed in Ottawa County Circuit Court Tuesday, does the following: 

  • Ends all litigation in the feud.
  • Ends the ongoing commissioners' sessions to fire Hambley.
  • Leaves to Muskegon County Circuit Court Judge Jenny McNeill to set any attorney's fees.
  • Establishes a process by which Hambley can be fired in the future, ensuring it is done by a three-person panel in a public meeting. The panel would consist of a representative selected by Hambley's attorney, one selected by Ottawa County's attorney and arbitrator Thomas Behm.
  • Ends any discussion of payments to Hambley, who had reportedly been offered $4 million to leave. (In a closed-door session in November, the board initially agreed to pay Hambley $4 million to leave, according to The Holland-Sentinel.)

In an email to Bridge Michigan, Joe Moss, who is chairperson of the board of commissioners, said his priority now “is to make Ottawa County a place Where Freedom Rings, where individuals and families thrive, and local government respects the individual and parental rights of the people. It’s our job to protect that heritage.”


He provided no details, sending a link to his State of the County speech instead. In that speech, he refers to concerns about the “sexualization” of children, reinforces Ottawa County as a protector of constitutional freedoms, and discusses the budget’s priorities, including expanded services for veterans, closer compliance to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and body cameras for the sheriff’s office.

The agreement allows the county to return its regular business, said Kallman, the county’s attorney. During the nearly 12-hour meeting Monday, it was clear that everyone was tired of fighting, he said.


“Everybody can move forward. Miss Hambley can move forward doing her job. The board can do its job. They don't have to be clashing swords.”

Still, whether this deeply red county can quickly pivot back to everyday business after a year in which the ugliness gained national attention, seems unlikely.

“Hopefully, this means for the county that we can move forward,” said  Commissioner Roger Bergman, an outspoken critic of Moss and others.

Commissioners will soon start annual discussions on the budget, he noted.

But still lingering is the commissioners’ new battle with county administrator John Gibbs, whom they had swiftly hired last year as soon as they took office.

john gibbs on the phone
Ottawa County administrator John Gibbs, once an ally of the board of commissioners, now is on paid administrative leave and facing allegations — from unnamed sources — that he created a “degrading and hostile work environment.” (Twitter photo)

Gibbs, a Republican congressional candidate endorsed by former President Donald Trump, is now locked in battle with some commissioners who cite an unnamed source accusing Gibbs of sexist comments, bugging his own office, violence against an attorney, and creating a hostile work environment, according to an attorney’s letter than Moss posted to his Facebook page, “Joe Moss for Ottawa County Commissioner.”

He is now on paid administrative leave as the board decides his future.

“We should be doing the work of the county and we're not. We're spinning our wheels and all these other things,” Bergman said.

Sylvia Rhodea, vice chairperson of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners, did not return messages from Bridge seeking comment. Nor did a representative from Ottawa Impact, a conservative advocacy organization Moss helped found and that backed the election of Moss and others.

Hambley also did not respond to a request for comment.

The group was founded during the COVID pandemic and cultural wars of over mask mandates. It opposes what its members argue are attacks on parental rights, efforts to “sexualize” children, and overreach by a government that they see has become unmoored from God. 

Hambley was not the county’s health officer at the time of the COVID mask mandates, but the public feud between her and commissioners started shortly after the commissioners took office last year.

Led by members of the Ottawa Impact, several commissioners tried to replace Hambley with Nathaniel Kelly, a self-proclaimed industrial hygienist and vocal critic of pandemic orders by the Whitmer administration. Kelly had gone so far as to mock the governor’s press conferences and the sign language interpreter at them.

Hambley sued to keep her job, backed by the National Association of County and City Health Officials and the Michigan Association of Local Public Health which filed an amicus brief on her behalf.

Adeline Hambley sitting at a desk
Ottawa County commissioners initially tried to replace Health Officer Adeline Hambley, but she sued and they cut the county’s health budget. (Bridge photo by Brett Farmer)

A circuit court judge granted Hambley a preliminary injunction, but a Michigan Court of Appeals then said the board could fire Hambley as long as it followed state law. Meanwhile, the commissioners voted to cut millions of dollars from the health department budget. Meetings, packed by residents, drew on for hours, often going into closed-door sessions.

While this week’s agreement — settled after an all-day session —  puts an end to the immediate discussion of her employment, the feud now may move to the ballot box.

All 11 of the commissioners are up for election this fall, noted resident David Barnosky, who supported Hambley and founded the Ottawa Objects Facebook page, which opposes “Ottawa Impact, Election Deniers & Trump Supporters.”

It will take more than a single settlement to move public health and the county back on track, Barnosky said. Each decision, he added, will “still be battle by battle.”

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