HIGHLIGHTS + OTTAWA COUNTY
Meeting highlights—Day two of Adeline Hambley’s termination hearing
Published October 27, 2023
Written by Adams
Photography by Simply American
Ten hours, two witnesses, 500 pages, commissioner discussion, and the first round of public comment—day two of Adeline Hambley’s termination hearing is on the books.
Ottawa County Board of Commissioners
SPECIAL MEETING: HEARING FOR REMOVAL OF HEALTH OFFICER
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2023
Shortly after 8:00am on October 25, 2023, Administrator John Gibbs swore an oath and took a seat to give his testimony. Gibbs sat for just under 5 hours answering questions posed by Sarah Howard, Adeline Hambley’s lawyer.
Howard covered a wide array of topics.
There were hundreds of pages of email conversations throughout August 2023 and September 2023. Many of the emails are between Gibbs, Hambley, Fiscal Service Director Karen Karasinski, and Public Health Fiscal Manager Nina Baranowski, showing involvement of all parties in the budget process.
Several other questions asked of Gibbs didn’t pertain to the charges, or to the reason for the public hearing—at all.
There were questions covering:
• Nate Kelly’s background check
• Grand Valley Sex Ed week
• Gibbs’ private Facebook page
Howard then attempted to ask questions about Patrick Waterman and the hiring of Jordan Epperson. Gibbs had to decline to answer due to litigation.
Howard tried to object.
Howard wanted the Chair to compel Gibbs to answer the questions despite the litigation. Howard believed that because the Chair could subpoena someone, he also has some legal authority to require someone to answer.
Chairman Joe Moss said that he, as Chair, was not presiding over this part of the process. So, he had no authority to do so.
Nor did Judge Thomas E. Brennen, Jr. The judge reminded Howard that he had no authority to compel or do anything beyond facilitate the hearing.
“I object, for the record,” Howard said. “I think if the statute gives Chairman Moss the ability to subpoena witnesses, there must be some authority—whether it’s going to the trial court judge or otherwise—to compel testimony.”
“I wonder,” Judge Brennen said, “if either Mr. Jordan or yourself have, or Mr. Kallman… Has anybody really inspected the statute that is the basis upon which the board has subpoena power to see if there’s any sanction within the statute?”
“I have not had the occasion to do so because I assumed that the witnesses would comply with the subpoenas,” Howard responded.
“We have extensively [inspected the statute],” Corporate Counsel Jack Jordan said.
Howard asked for a recess to read the statute and decide whether she and her client would like to continue. After the break Howard said the statute isn’t clear but for now she and her client would continue.
Howard forged ahead in her questioning, leading Administrator Gibbs through hundreds of pages of emails consisting of conversation about the budget.
• The emails included Gibbs, Hambley, Karasinski and Baranowski.
• The dates of the emails range from August 2023 through the end of September 2023. The budget process ended on September 26, 2023.
When Stephen Kallman, the County’s attorney, cross-examined Gibbs, he kept his questioning simple and pertaining to the charges.
Kallman asked Gibbs about:
• Hambley’s significant involvement in the budget process as shown by the emails
• Whether at anytime Gibbs excluded Hambley from the process, to which Gibbs replied, “absolutely not”
• Two separate August 28 emails that Hambley says in one, “work is ongoing” and in the other, “we will continue to do our best to help Karen with these requests.” Gibbs answered, “yes,” that these emails showed Hambley was heavily involved in the process.
Howard brought her client, Adeline Hambley, up for testimony.
• The public listened to almost all of the same questions as had been asked of Gibbs
• Hundreds of pages of the same emails were presented on the screen, dated August 2023 and through September 2023, with communication between Hambley and Gibbs
• Hambley explained how she was kept on the outside, like looking in the window at a birthday party. She claimed she was excluded.
Kallman had no cross-examination questions for Hambley.
In Howard’s summarization, she claimed a “just cause” needed to be met and, through testimony and evidence, it was not. She also said that her position—and that of her client’s—is that the four charges are not true.
In David Kallman’s summarization he explained that “just cause” is found nowhere in the statute. Issues of incompetence and misconduct are left to the “Board’s opinion.”
“She [Howard] spent the vast majority of her time attacking, smearing and maligning others instead of addressing the actual charges against her,” Kallman said.
Kallman recommended the Board vote separately on the charges of incompetence, misconduct, and neglect of duty.
When the Board arrived at the discussion segment of the hearing, Judge Brennen recused himself and thanked the board for having him.
As the Board deliberated, it appeared that Commissioners Doug Zylstra, Roger Bergman, and Jacob Bonnema were leaning towards voting to keep Hambley.
• Zylstra became noticeably upset when speaking about the charges
• Bergman said, “When we vote, we’re gonna vote with different opinions. From those different opinions, we’re gonna vote. When we vote.”
A few commissioners spoke of the many emails they had received from parents scared they would lose health services, and how they had to talk them through what they saw in the media versus what actually was happening with the budget.
Some commissioners gave personal statements:
• Allison Miedema commented on how the previous days’ eight witnesses shared nothing that addressed the charges that were brought
• Sylvia Rhodea said she felt that honesty was an issue, and that Hambley causing fear in the county could cause the citizens to struggle to trust her if there were an actual crisis
• Roger Belknap said, “I think what I’m seeing and witnessing is this arm wrestling between the status quo versus new direction that led to eight seats being changed in 2022. And I believe that the status quo represents a continuation of a cycle where seeking grants no matter what the strings attached, is encouraged… part of the process that we’ve seen this past year is capitalizing on the crisis.”
Ultimately, there was a motion made to table the vote until Monday, October 30, 2023, at 8:00am.