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Ottawa County board once again delays health officer decision

justice lawyer / judge gavel working with legal documents in a court room
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justice lawyer / judge gavel working with legal documents in a court room

Commissioners in Ottawa County have once again delayed a decision on whether to fire the county’s health officer, Adeline Hambley.

“I believe it’s in the best interest to give everybody enough time to continue reviewing all of the copious amounts of information and answer any questions they have to recess this meeting a little bit longer,” said board chairman Joe Moss during a brief meeting Monday morning.

The Monday morning meeting was scheduled after commissioners recessed on Friday following two days of testimony in a hearing over whether to remove Hambley from office.

But the conflict between Hambley and the board stretches back much further. At the board’s first meeting of the year in January, as a majority of board members were sworn in for the first time, they voted to demote Hambley to the role of “interim” health officer, and signaled their intention to hire a new health officer in her place.

Hambley challenged the demotion, suing the board for violating state law. Judges sided with Hambley, ruling that Michigan law requires public hearings, and a finding of cause, before county health officers can be removed.

So last week, commissioners held two days of public hearings.

Officially, the board is looking into whether Hambley displayed incompetence, willfully neglected her duties or engaged in misconduct during the county’s budget process.

Hambley clashed with county administrator John Gibbs after initially being asked to impose dramatic cuts in her department’s budget. She claimed the cuts would have put services at risk. The county argued it was open to higher funding, and ultimately approved a budget that reduced costs by less than six percent.

After recessing Monday morning, commissioners scheduled to meet again to discuss Hambley’s fate next Monday at 9 a.m.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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