Health Officer May Get $4M to Step Down

Derick Alison
Derick Alison
5 Min Read

Amid reports that the top public health officer in Ottawa County, Michigan may be given $4 million to step down from her position, the outcome of the months-long saga remains uncertain.

The potential payment would be 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 recently reported. However, an agreement was uncertain following a board meeting on Tuesday.

At the center of the issue is a back-and-forth between the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners and Administrative Public Health Officer Adeline Hambley, who, according to court documents, had worked in the county’s health department for two decades prior to being selected and voted into her current role by the county’s outgoing board at the end of last year.

However, once the current members of the board were sworn in at the beginning of January, the new majority wanted to replace Hambley in favor of someone “ideologically aligned with themselves,” the Holland Sentinel reported. Board chair Joe Moss and co-chair Sylvia Rhodea are co-founders of the conservative organization Ottawa Impact.

The potential settlement for Hambley to step down comes as the public health officer and Ottawa County’s board majority have been “battling in the courts for months,” the Sentinel reported. The series of events began when the board voted to demote Hambley at the turn of the year.

Hambley filed a lawsuit against the board in February, alleging that the attempt to demote her was unlawful and that the board’s majority had continued to interfere with the state-authorized duties of her position, the Sentinel reported. A lower court granted Hambley a preliminary injunction allowing her to remain in her role until a trial could take place later in the year. However, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision in part — and reversed it in part.

An Ottawa County Board of Commissioner’s meeting on Tuesday was slated to continue to address the ongoing issue, including discussions related to the potential settlement.

The meeting was livestreamed online and was open to the public. However, as soon as the meeting got underway, the board voted to move to closed session. (Board chair Moss stated in part that an open meeting “would have a detrimental financial effect on the litigation or settlement position of the county” in proposing to move the meeting to closed session.)

Ultimately, the board remained in closed session the entirety of the day and “did not deliberate publicly on the matter,” a spokesperson for Ottawa County told MedPage Today in an email.

The board is next scheduled to meet regarding the issue on Nov. 28, the Holland Sentinel reported.

Sarah Riley-Howard, legal counsel for Hambley, reportedly told members of the media following Tuesday’s meeting that, though she believed a binding settlement had been reached earlier in the month, it remains possible that a settlement is not reached — and that the board proceeds with a vote on whether to keep Hambley or terminate the public health officer, the Sentinel added. Riley-Howard did not immediately respond to requests for comment from MedPage Today regarding the potential settlement.

Previously, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling that Hambley’s was “properly appointed” to her current role, but that the board retains the authority to terminate Hambley if it complies with state law, court records showed. For instance, if Hambley proves to be “guilty of official misconduct, or habitual or willful neglect of duty” as prescribed by state law, factors in the analysis of injunctive relief “weigh against a sweeping injunction that leaves her in place,” the Court of Appeals opinion stated in part.

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    Jennifer Henderson joined MedPage Today as an enterprise and investigative writer in Jan. 2021. She has covered the healthcare industry in NYC, life sciences and the business of law, among other areas.

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