A group of far-right commissioners in Ottawa County, Michigan, is having second thoughts about a $4 million offer they made two weeks ago to the county’s public health officer in exchange for her resignation, according to court documents obtained by The Daily Beast.
The ultraconservative commissioners, who are affiliated with the group Ottawa Impact, have been trying to remove Adeline Hambley from her role at the Ottawa County Health Department since they took over the majority of board seats in January. Led by board chairperson Joe Moss, they have been trying to replace her with a local HVAC business owner who has never held public office, a move some local residents describe as “revenge politics” for COVID-era public health mandates.
In a court filing on Thursday, Hambley’s attorney Sarah Riley Howard, wrote that the commissioners were trying to wriggle out of a settlement they had formally offered.
“On November 6, the parties negotiated an agreement while Defendants were in closed session in a special meeting. The parties memorialized that agreement in writing, whereby Plaintiff Hambley would leave her position as Health Officer in exchange for a payment of $4 million,” Howard wrote in the court filing. “After entering into the agreement, however, Defendant contracted a case of buyer’s remorse. Defendants now argue that there was never a binding agreement in the first place. That is legally incorrect, however.”
The filing alleges that Ottawa Impact-affiliated commissioners Sylvia Rhodea, Lucy Ebel, Gretchen Cosby, Rebekah Curran, Allison Miedema, and chairperson Moss have been attempting to “demote” Hambley in favor of “putting a political crony in the role.”
After months of attempting to remove her, Hambley’s attorney says, a settlement agreement was finally reached on Nov. 6, and the commissioners’ legal counsel emailed a written copy of the terms, which included a $4 million payout.
The huge dollar amount is the “largest settlement in the county’s history and nearly the exact amount the board cut from the public health department’s budget this year,” the Holland Sentinel reported.
However, when the commissioners met again this week, they immediately entered six and a half hours of closed session, in which Howard says, “defense counsel notified plaintiff’s counsel that defendants did not intend to honor the Nov. 6 agreement.”
“Defendants’ counsel claimed that they did not notify the primary or excess insurer before negotiating or agreeing to the deal, and they had since learned of potential negative consequences as a result, and so defendants wished to start again with negotiations for different terms to resolve the litigation and termination hearing,” Howard wrote.
This is only the latest chapter in a political saga that has disrupted this small Michigan county since the surprise win of a group of far-right commissioners in Nov. 2022.
The new commissioners ran under the umbrella of Ottawa Impact, a far-right Christian group founded by Joe Moss and Sylvia Rhodea after they launched an unsuccessful lawsuit against the county’s Department of Public Health and the previous board commissioners, over mask mandates in schools. Since winning the majority of board seats in January, they have installed a former Trump administration official and MAGA loyalist as county administrator, shuttered the county’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Office, and changed the county motto from “Where You Belong” to “Where Freedom Rings.”
In October, the board voted to cut the Health Department budget by $2.1 million, against passionate pleas from community members and from Hambley herself.
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