Attempt to add agenda items creates a tense discussion
Published March 31, 2023
Written by Adams
Photography by Simply American
It was another packed house at the Fillmore Complex Tuesday evening for the Board of Commissioners meeting. After just over 2 hours of public comments on many different topics, the commissioners didn’t waste any time getting down to business.
The agenda was full of selections for county committee appointments, but before voting on those placements, the board had some work to do.
The commissioners listened to a presentation from Sheriff Steve Kempker on Crisis Aid International and the need in the county to provide assistance to children at potential risk of sex trafficking.
After taking a quick break and before the board could even approve the agenda, Commissioner Doug Zylstra made a motion.
Commissioner Zylstra Adds To The Agenda
Zylstra moved to add two amendments to the night’s agenda.
1. A motion to approve the 2023 memorandum of understanding for the Community Health Needs Assessment contract and funding.
Zylstra started the discussion by acknowledging that some of the commissioners may still be looking at this issue, but that there are a multitude of other agencies that Ottawa needs to be respectful to as well.
“I think that these people need an answer. And I think they deserve an answer,” added Commissioner Roger Bergman, who seconded the motion. “We either vote yes or no, and give them an answer.”
Commissioner Gretchen Cosby agreed that it is important to move forward, but is still waiting for the questions to be provided. “I have asked on a number of occasions for full transparency of the questions. Because it is data that is collected, actionable data,” she said. “We look at this every three years and make determinations. Are we progressing? Are we not progressing? Do we have new health issues that are arising? Do we have programs that are associated with that? So I just want to know the questions.”
Cosby said she asked for those things and received an email saying those things aren’t finalized yet.
This motion failed 8-2.
2. A motion to amend the 2023 Board Rules Rule 6.3 Section 11. Additional Business, to expressly delineate two subsections: A. Administrator Reports and B. Commissioner Comments.
This is the second time Commissioner Zylstra has tried to amend the agenda to consider a change to Rule 6.3. In last week’s Rules Committee, Zylstra noted he has been a proponent of having Meetings Attended be more explicitly designated as just a discussion time, stating, “That never happened with the old board. But my hope was that going forward, we could have that more explicit.”
After a failed attempt in last week’s Rules Committee, where Commissioner Kyle Terpstra and Bergman were absent, Zylstra brought a similar amendment to be added to the board’s agenda. Once again, this attempt to add the item to the agenda led to a tense discussion.
Some Want To Live In The Past
Zylstra, Terpstra and Bergman, all from the previous board, spoke in favor of codifying Administrator Reports and Commissioner Comments. All three reiterating that comments always have been a part of the agenda, though not used regularly.
“We’ve had those comments on the agenda forever, it has never been a problem,” said Bergman. “It shouldn’t be contentious, I see no reason for us to be eliminating that whatsoever.”
Terpstra added, “It’s just a simple way to just be open and just create dialogue. That’s how I see it. I don’t see this as anybody wanting to political grandstand or long, drawn out debate.”
“I’m for transparency and I think this is a great opportunity to show the public we can work really well together and we can respect one another’s opinions,” said Commissioner Jacob Bonnema. “It’s been on the agenda for a long time. I think we can do it in a respectful, meaningful and fruitful way.”
“Since the beginning of 2023, the Administrator Report has never not been on the agenda,” said Commissioner Sylvia Rhodea. “There is no intention to not have it on the agenda. There has been some contentious discussion under the item that is really in dispute this year. You’re right, historically, that’s not what that item has been meant for. It’s been a report on what you’ve been doing and general comments. But that’s not how it’s been used in recent meetings.”
“If we choose to not amend our rules,” she added, “that does not mean there will never be an Administrator Report. That doesn’t even mean that we would never choose to put the comments back on the agenda again. But right now, the comments have not been used for healthy discussion.”
In A Respectful, Meaningful And Fruitful Way
“Vice Chair Rhodea, you just said a few different times there, in your last comment that the comments have not been used for healthy discussion,” Bonnema pointed out. “Could you give us some examples of that?”
Rhodea suggested Bonnema watch videos of previous meetings for examples. He responded, “No, no, no, go ahead. Please tell us an example.”
A lively exchange followed.
Rhodea: “This, right here, right now.”
Bonnema: “I’m just asking for evidence of what you’re saying, as an example. This is healthy conversation.”
Rhodea: “Typically, commissioners don’t demand answers from other commissioners. You generally are directing your comments to the board chair. And it helps to keep things from not being a direct one-on-one debate about issues.”
Bonnema: “Sure, but you keep making an accusation that that is happening, but I’m wondering what you’re referring to so I get clarity, because I haven’t heard an actual example. I’ve heard you make the accusation, but I’m trying to understand the evidence for the example, which is why I’m asking.”
Rhodea: “OK. Are you talking to the chair right now? Or are you asking questions of another commissioner and demanding an answer?”
Bonnema: “I’m trying to get clarity on what your statement is.”
Rhodea: “I’m giving it to you.”
Bonnema: “You haven’t clarified anything.”
Rhodea: “OK, well, I’m sorry about that.”
This isn’t the first time Bonnema has singled out Rhodea. He has been at the center of three different tense conversations, including in the previous meeting on a similar motion concerning Rule 6.3.
Last week at the Rules Committee meeting, when speaking out of turn, Bonnema challenged Chairman Joe Moss to “hit the gavel.” A few weeks prior to that during the Administrator Report, he told Administrator John Gibbs to “do his job.”
Course Correcting And Leaving The Past
The motion ended up failing 6-4. Commissioner Rebekah Curran was absent.
Right before the vote Chairperson Joe Moss stated, “I heard Commissioner Rhodea use the term ‘contrived argument.’ I think maybe I might refer to some of this as manufactured crisis. I have heard the word ‘eliminating,’ that we want to go back to the way it was in the past.”
Moss concluded: “I don’t want to go back to the way it was in the past. I think we are course correcting, making some great changes and doing the business and the work of the people of Ottawa County.”