HIGHLIGHTS + OTTAWA COUNTY
Meeting highlights—Day one of special hearing for removal of health officer, Adeline Hambley
Published October 24, 2023
Written by Adams
Photography by Simply American
October 24, 2023, started as any other Board of Commissioners meeting would, with the invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance. The difference was that the room was set up like a courtroom.
After listening to the first eight witnesses from the defense, one might wonder whom the hearing was for, Administrator John Gibbs or Adeline Hambley.
Ottawa County Board of Commissioners
Special Meeting: Hearing for Removal of Health Officer
Tuesday, October 24, 2023
Retired Judge Thomas E. Brennen, Jr. is the facilitator of the hearing. Brennen was on the bench for 24 years in the 55th District Court in Mason County, Michigan. Prior to becoming a judge, he served as a county commissioner in Ingham County.
The Judge addressed four questions before the hearing began:
Why are we here?
We are here to fulfill that statutory requirement found in MCL 46.11(n) with the subject of the hearing being Adeline Hambley.
The judge is in attendance to facilitate the hearing. He has no ability or authority to make a decision. The judge is here to give the hearing an emblem of fairness and maintain decorum.
We will conduct a hearing with everyone’s cooperation. According to the statute, the first requirement is the notice of the hearing, which already has been done. Also required is the opportunity to be heard, which is the most important part of the statute and what we will establish today.
How will the hearing proceed?
The judge said that we will “follow the prescription of, what you might see at a trial in a sense.”
Brennen explained that we will begin with David Kallman, the County’s attorney, reading into the record the allegations being presented to the Board of Commissioners. Then there will be an opportunity for attorneys on both sides to give an opening statement.
Following the statements, Kallman can present documents and/or witness testimony.
Sarah Howard, Adeline Hambley’s lawyer, will be given the same opportunity to present documents and witness testimony. Witnesses who testify will be subject to cross examination.
At the conclusion of the testimony, each party will be given an opportunity to summarize before the Board. There will then be an opportunity for public comment.
In closing, the Judge reminded everyone that, unlike a trial, there are no rules of evidence.
“I will not be making any rulings,” Brennen said. “[This hearing is] simply a flow of information to the Board, and I’m simply the traffic cop organizing the exchange of thoughtful comments and evidence.”
Kallman started off the hearing by reading the charges against Hambley.
1. Ms. Hambley demonstrated incompetence, misconduct, and neglect of duty by making false public representations about budgetary scenarios.
2. Ms. Hambley demonstrated incompetence, misconduct, and neglect of duty by falsely claiming that she was not included in the budget process.
3. Ms. Hambley demonstrated incompetence, misconduct, and neglect of duty by failing to cooperate in the budget process.
4. Ms. Hambley demonstrated incompetence, misconduct, and neglect of duty by making false claims that encouraged and caused confusion, anxiety, fear, and panic in the community.
Kallman waived his opening statement and declined to call any witnesses. He submitted the documents of exhibits as evidence.
Howard began her statement by listing objections to the hearing:
• She objected to the fact that she could not call commissioners as witnesses
• She claimed there was insufficient notice and the charges were inadequate. She then called the charges “sham justification.”
Howard spent the next few hours calling 8 of her 10 witnesses. Upon her request, the Board had sent subpoenas to 11 witnesses, including Al Vanderberg, one of the former County Administrators.
Vandenberg’s lawyers had responded with a letter explaining, “Mr. Vanderberg clearly has no involvement in your present dispute. We suspect that you intend to ask Mr. Vanderberg to offer his opinion on the matter from his perspective as a county administrator. This too would be impermissible.”
Who took the stand on the first day:
• Justin Roebuck, Ottawa County Clerk
• Marcie VerBeek, Ottawa County Director of Human Resources
• Karen Karasinski, Ottawa County Director of Fiscal Services
• Nina Baranowski, Ottawa County Public Health Financial Manager
• Spencer Ballard, Ottawa County Environmental Health Manager
• John Shay, Wyoming City Manager, and previous Ottawa County Administrator
• Patrick Waterman, Wyoming Deputy City Manager, and previous Ottawa County Deputy Administrator
• Paul Klimas, Ottawa County IT Director
A few of Howard’s questions:
• Roebuck was asked whether he was in attendance at the December 13, 2022 or the January 3, 2023 Board meetings. He replied that he was absent from the December 13th meeting and left the January 3rd meeting before it was over.
• Verbeek was asked about the union meetings of the Health Department, and if there were concerns about Nate Kelly’s background check. Verbeek told Howard that the union meetings have just started and that there are no concerns with Kelly’s background check.
• Karasinski was asked when the budget process starts. Her answer was that it started in February.
• Barronoski was asked if Public Health received any penalties. She replied that there were no penalties, and the contract is in place.
There were a lot of opinions being given as several witnesses didn’t have personal knowledge and had either “heard” things from others or “didn’t read” all the information given.
Many of Howard’s questions didn’t pertain to the charges against Hambley—at all. Instead the questions focused on John Gibbs, Jordan Epperson, Nate Kelly, and others.
Kallman kept his cross-examinations short and had no questions for a few of the witnesses. He explained, “This is for Ms. Hambley to be heard at a hearing, not for us to be heard.”
The hearing ended with only two of Howard’s witnesses remaining. On Wednesday, October 25, 2023, the Board plans to hear testimony from Administrator John Gibbs and Adeline Hambley.
Then starts the deliberation between the commissioners.
Day one is on the books, with a lot of theater and opinions coming from the witnesses. If this were a court trial the word “objection” would have been used on many occasions.