The first Action Item on the Agenda for the upcoming Ottawa County Board of Commissioners meeting on Thursday, September 30, includes:
“Suggested Motion: To approve and authorize the Board Chairperson and Clerk/Register to sign the Resolution Supporting Passage of Legislation to Adopt 4-Year Terms for County Commissioners.”
The length of county commissioners’ terms is NOT an issue over which the Board of Commissioners has statutory authority, but it IS an issue in which they have PERSONAL INTEREST. The Action Request on page 13 of the meeting Packet states,
“Senate Bill 0242 and its companion bill, SB 0245, would extend the term of office for County Commissioners from two years to four years beginning with the November 2024 general election…The Senate has passed these bills, and they were referred to the House on June 3, 2021.”
Recent History on Resolutions
What is the recent history of the commissioners with Resolutions?
At the County Commissioners’ meeting of May 25, 2021, over 30 citizens outlined the affects of Covid-19 measures on students, and requested the Ottawa County Commissioners sign the Resolution to End Enforcement of Covid-19 Orders and Restore Constitutional Freedoms to Ottawa County (also referred to as the Resolution to Restore Freedom). The Resolution outlined the historical and Constitutional context of the Covid-19 orders imposed on residents, the findings in Ottawa County related to Covid-19 one year later, and steps to be taken to restore freedom to our county. Joining the signatures of Senator Victory and Representative Luke Meerman, Commissioner Kyle Terpstra signed the Resolution to Restore Freedom, the only County Commissioner who has signed the Resolution to date. There are currently almost 2700 signatures from Ottawa County citizens.
Rather than sign the Resolution, or take the steps it outlines to restore and protect the freedoms being violated in Ottawa County, Commissioner Bergman, Chair of the Ottawa County Commissioners, wrote Governor Whitmer requesting the governor provide clarification “that county commissioners cannot control local health departments regarding the mask mandate…” and play only a “limited role” in managing the Covid-19 pandemic.
On July 27, 2021, following two months of repeated requests to sign the Resolution to Restore Freedom, the commissioners instead approved a proposed Policy on Resolutions, which would prohibit the Ottawa County Commissioners from taking up a resolution on issues where it does not have authority. The policy states,
“The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners exercises limited governmental power. As a result, the Board may only entertain substantive resolutions that pertain to the specific administrative or legislative authority conferred to it by state statute. Any proposed resolution, motion or ordinance that does not pertain to the Board’s statutory authority is out of order.”
This policy was seemingly in response to citizens’ requests for resolutions on health freedom issues, which ironically, the Commissioners do have authority over. County Commissioners are responsible for funding the local health department, as well as to appoint— and thus are able to un-appoint and replace, the Health Officer.
So it is curious the first Action Item on the September 30, 2021 Agenda includes the Resolution Supporting Passage of Legislation to Adopt 4-Year Terms for County Commissioners. The length of County Commissioners’ terms is NOT an issue over which the Board of Commissioners have statutory authority, as it is the State Senate, House, and Governor who will decide any changes to the term length, but it IS an issue in which they have PERSONAL INTEREST.
Prior Passage of Controversial Resolution
Also of note, on pages 14-16 in the packet for this week’s meeting, immediately following the Action Request, is a proposed resolution for consideration. Perhaps mistakenly included, it appears to be a partially edited resolution harkening back to one hastily passed on January 28, 2020, when the commissioners ignored a large showing of the Republican Party base and delegates, who requested the commissioners proceed with caution and consider an opportunity provided by President Trump’s Executive Order 13888 to protect Ottawa in regards to refugee safety concerns.
The Trump administration was overseeing refugee influx at that time, and refugees were reportedly being vetted for safety, but the Executive Order statement on refugee resettlement noted, “many refugees come from countries that are known sources of terrorism or lack the modern record keeping to help us identify their nationals.”
Concerned citizens noted lack of trust in the vetting process, a concern which has recently reemerged under the Biden administration with the mass exit of refugees from Afghanistan, some of whom have already posed safety risks in the United States. Following are portions of a public comment from 2020:
“Ottawa residents are generous, loving people. We are moved by the plight of refugees, and instinctively desire to help. But we also wish to protect our County from unsustainable financial burden, maintain the law and order which has been the foundation of our Country, and protect our citizens from those who might harm.”
“It’s simply not a matter of being for or against refugee resettlement. If you opt in, please first properly vet the benefits and risks, financial costs, and not take on more than we can handle without hurting our County or our Country. Please table the vote on opting out until there is a solid plan in place to address citizen concerns.”
Rather than taking more time as requested, upon close of 73 public comments, the County Commissioners immediately approved the resolution.
And so, it would seem the Ottawa County Commissioners do not have a problem with passing Resolutions which promote their own personal or controversial political agendas. They do however, have a problem with passing Resolutions which restore freedom, or align with the base of the Republican Party and President Trump.