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Ottawa County commissioner clashes with other board members over lack of transparency with public

The board voted down a motion to permanently add public commissioner comments to future meeting agendas.

OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. — It was another clash of commissioners at an Ottawa County board rules meeting on Tuesday night. Board members backed by far-right group Ottawa Impact removed a portion of meeting agendas that allowed for public discussion.

All three board members not backed by Ottawa Impact were strongly opposed to the idea. Jacob Bonnema, who recently cut ties with the group, says this is not how he wants Ottawa County to operate.

"That is a time where it can be a very informational time for the public to hear some open conversation, information, events that are happening in the community," says Bonnema.

On Tuesday, Bonnema and two other board members motioned to add it permanently to meeting agendas. The remaining six commissioners, all backed by Ottawa Impact, voted against it, meaning more discussion could happen behind closed doors.

"We don't want more of that," says Bonnema. "We want it to be open and transparent and commissioners to be held accountable for what they're doing."

Bonnema and Ottawa Impact founder Joe Moss, who is chairman of the board, clashed over the decision.

Sylvia Rhodea, a commissioner who co-founded Ottawa Impact with Moss, suggested all discussion points should be on the agenda ahead of meetings.

"I think it's only fair to all commissioners to know the topics that are going to be talked about when they go to a meeting and to not be surprised," Rhodea said during the meeting.

In January, board members including Rhodea added several items to the agenda that were not there before the meeting, including controversial decisions like the closure of the county's DEI office and appointing John Gibbs as county administrator.

Bonnema says if he was a constituent rather than on the board, discussions held behind closed doors would break his trust in county leaders.

"Dissent is not a bad thing. A variety of viewpoints is not a bad thing," says Bonnema. "That's a place where we can have some civil discourse, even, to talk about things that are going on and problem solve together a little bit in front of the public."

Bonnema says he is open to making changes to how the county operates, but believes it needs to be done in an incremental and reasonable way.

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