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Ottawa County board accuses top administrator of making threats and "bizarre" and sexist comments

John Gibbs stands in a suit with a red tie, while two microphones are held up to him. He's responding to questions from the press.
Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Public
John Gibbs during his failed bid for Michigan's 3rd Congressional District. He was hired as Ottawa County's top administrator in January of 2023.

Ottawa County is accusing its top administrator of making verbal threats and derogatory comments and creating an abusive work environment.

The allegations come in a seven-page letter posted on Facebook by Joe Moss, the current chair of the county’s board of commissioners.

The letter, which Moss said was written by an attorney for the county and sent to Gibbs’ attorney, contains a long list of bizarre, offensive and abusive comments allegedly made by Gibbs.

“Administrator Gibbs routinely made derogatory comments about the majority of County Commissioners and Corporation Counsel, claiming their Protestant faith severely impacted their IQ and work ethic,” reads one of the allegations in the letter. The letter is signed by Brook Bisonet, an attorney with the firm Guinan Bisonet, based in Grand Haven.

The letter also accuses Gibbs of directing employees to bug his office, and of saying he wanted to beat the county’s top attorney, Jack Jordan, “to death.”

The letter continues, alleging Gibbs did not address a threat by a department head to assault board chair Joe Moss, and speculated that another commissioner was “out of God’s grace” because she didn’t wear her wedding band.

An unnamed employee quoted in the letter also alleges that Gibbs regularly gave staff conflicting directions, sometimes asking for one employee to be invited to a meeting, then expressing anger when the employee showed up.

“Administrator Gibbs routinely subjected me to what I would consider a degrading and hostile work environment,” the employee is quoted as saying in the letter. “He would routinely hand out meaningless tasks, many of which had little to do with county operations, day, night, weekends, and holidays. This around the clock work style and abusive environment was detrimental to my mental health and personal life.”

On Thursday, board chair Joe Moss disclosed that commissioners had been in negotiations for Gibbs to resign, with Gibbs asking for $420,000 to do so.

In a statement to Michigan Public, Gibbs’ attorney Noah Hurwitz said the allegations about Gibbs were made by Moss only after Gibbs pushed back against Moss and “would not be his puppet.”

“The County Board continues to bring chaos and shame to the County by pursuing personal vendettas instead of governance,” Hurwitz told MLive. “Mr. Moss will lose this battle specifically because he cannot justify why he only gathered up his anonymous complaints after John Gibbs challenged the County Board and not before.”

The full letter of allegations against Gibbs is posted online here.

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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