Embattled Michigan health officer expected to get $4 million — to go away
- To finally put to rest a long-standing dispute with their county health officer, Ottawa County commissioners are reportedly offering $4 million to have her step down
- The nearly year-long fight between the health officer and the county commissioners has attracted national attention
- A spokesperson for the state health department said it has not intervened, viewing the battle as an employment dispute.
A bitter fight between Ottawa County commissioners and the county’s top health official may be nearly over — but at a steep cost to taxpayers.
On Tuesday, the commissioners in this county just west of Grand Rapids are expected to vote on a settlement package to pay Administrative Health Officer Adeline Hambley $4 million to resign, the Holland Sentinel reported Wednesday. Deputy Health Officer Marcia Mansaray also would resign and get a severance of one year’s pay, $125,000, the Sentinel also reported.
Hambley has been locked for most of this year in a battle with the county’s deeply conservative political leaders that has devolved into name-calling and garnered national attention.
- Long-simmering battle over public health comes to a head in Ottawa County
- West Michigan library defunded over LGBTQ books wins tax support on 3rd try
- After LGBTQ library fight, a Michigan town tries something new: compromise
- In deep-red Ottawa County, religion, race spark civil war among Republicans
In a show-down emblematic of the tensions that public health officials have faced across much of the country since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mansaray, the deputy health officer, first triggered controversy in 2020 when she ordered the Libertas Christian School temporarily closed because the department determined it was not following pandemic orders.
Then this fall, several commissioners, led by Commissioner Joe Moss, tried to cut the health department’s budget by $6.4 million to $2.5 million, “a reduction of over 60 percent,” according to Hambley, who took to Facebook in response to the cuts.
Neither Moss nor the Ottawa Impact, the far right advocacy organization he founded, responded to repeated requests for comment.
David Kallman, an attorney with the conservative Kallman Legal Group, who was hired by the commissioners earlier this year, was not available for comment.
Hambley could not be reached. Her attorney, Sarah Riley Howard, said she expects the reported settlement to be approved Tuesday, but said she would not discuss details until it was signed by both the county commissioners and Hambley.
Long-time Ottawa County Commissioner Roger Berman, who has supported Hambley, said he opposed the settlement deal.
“To spend $4 million just because you’ve got a grudge — that’s gross negligence,” he told Bridge Michigan.
For its part, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has not taken an active role in the controversy, viewing the matter as an employment dispute, said Lynn Sutfin, spokesperson for the department.
In fact, the battle put the state health department in a politically tough position, said Peter Jacobsen, a professor emeritus of health law and policy at University of Michigan, who has supported Hambley.
On one hand, the authority for public health decisions in Michigan rests mostly with the local departments. On the other hand, the state is the ultimate provider of services to protect residents’ public health, he said.
If commissioners replace Hambley with someone who is unqualified, the state has both the authority and the duty to intervene, Jacobsen told Bridge.
The Ottawa commissioners previously tried to replace Hambley with Nathaniel Kelly, a man who reportedly has a master’s degree in public health from an online university. Kelly has touted unproven COVID treatments. He once asserted that wearing masks doesn’t work against the virus’ transmission, and at one time mimicked Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s sign language interpreter in a parody video protesting pandemic lockdown orders.
The state’s Sutfin declined to say whether the state would get involved if a new health officer is appointed.
“At this point, they have an accredited health officer” on the job, she said.
See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:
- “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
- “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
- “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.
If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!