A group of far-right local commissioners in Michigan has offered the county’s public health officer $4.1 million to leave her job, after trying unsuccessfully to remove her for the last 10 months.
The commissioners, aligned with local ultraconservative group Ottawa Impact, offered the high-priced settlement to Adeline Hambley, the county’s public health boss, after an 8-hour closed door session on Wednesday, according to reporting from the Holland Sentinel. In exchange, the commissioners want Hambley to resign and drop her wrongful termination suit against them, the newspaper reports.
The $4 million offer to Hambley comes after the commissioners voted last month to cut millions from the Ottawa County Health Department’s budget in September, in a move widely viewed as retaliation for the department’s COVID measures.
Hambley is currently paid about $125,000 a year, meaning the $4 million offer—which includes paying her current legal costs of about $250,000—would equate to about 30 years worth of her salary.
Dough Zylstra, the only Democrat on the board, told The Daily Beast he had voted against making the settlement offer.
“It could be a dollar, it could be $4 million, it could be $100 million,” Zylstra said on Thursday. “Any agreement that has her leaving, I’m not in favor of it.”
Jacob Bonnema, a Republican commissioner who broke ties with Ottawa Impact in March, described the settlement as “a severe abuse of the taxpayers, who are now compelled to pay this exorbitant settlement to one person and get absolutely nothing in return,” in a statement to Fox 17 on Wednesday.
“The speed at which this decision was made and the Ottawa Impact commissioner’s willingness to go along with this, with no checks or balances, is wholly irresponsible and begs the question, why?” Bonnema continued.
Following the eight-hour closed session on Monday, the board approved a recommendation by board counsel, Kallman Legal Group, to offer the $4 million settlement to Hambley, MLive reported.
It is not clear if Hambley will accept it, but it came after hours of negotiations with her attorney, Sarah Riley Howard.
Howard did not respond to a request for comment.
Ottawa Impact is 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. The group ran a slate of far-right candidates who won the majority of seats in January and subsequently enacted a series of major upheavals. They 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.”
The Ottawa Impact-aligned commissioners have been attempting to remove Hambley from her post since taking office in January. In their first meeting, the new commissioners tried to replace her with Nathaniel Kelly, a safety manager at a local HVAC company. (Kelly is the husband of Kristen Meghan Kelly, a “health freedom advocate” whose campaigns against mask mandates were covered by The Daily Beast in 2021.)
Hambley filed a lawsuit against the board members in February, saying they were attempting to fire her without “just cause.” In September, Moss filed notice of his intent to remove Hambley from her post, accusing her of “incompetence, misconduct, and neglect of duty” and of making “false public representations” during the budget process.
Moss did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the settlement offer.
Last month, the board voted to cut the Health Department’s budget by $2.1 million—against pleas from public health officials and community members.
At the time, Hambley said the cuts would drastically impact local public health and led to the shuttering of food programs for low-income families, vaccine programs, suicide prevention programs, dental care for uninsured children, programs for migrants, communicable disease prevention, addiction resources, and sexually-transmitted disease services.