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Judge rules Ottawa County board can't remove health officer until trial

The decision means that Adeline Hambley's motion for a preliminary injunction is granted. She will remain on the job until the case heads to trial.
Credit: 13 OYS
Adeline Hambley in court.

OTTAWA COUNTY, Michigan — A Muskegon County judge has issued an opinion in the case of the Ottawa County health officer who is suing the county for planning to replace her.

Adeline Hambley sued the county after the new far-right board took over and began calling her "interim" health officer. They introduced motions to replace her.

The judge said that the board can only remove her if she is incompetent or is engaging in misconduct, which the county has not alleged.

In a statement, the judge said "The public is harmed when the law is not followed in terminating a health director." 

The judge said that the board's actions of calling her "interim" and appearing to hire another individual appear to show they are taking adverse actions against her.

The decision means the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction is granted and will continue until they head to trial in the case.

This comes months after the Board of Commissioners voted to make Hambley the Interim Health Officer while they worked to hire Nathaniel Kelly for that position. Kelly has been an outspoken critic of pandemic safety measures like masking and social distancing.

Hambley's lawsuit argues Ottawa County commissioners did not provide enough evidence to fire her from her health officer position. Hambley is seeking economic and compensatory damages from what the commissioners have done. 

She claims in her lawsuit the decision to demote her was done behind closed doors. 

"I'm not a Democrat, I'm not a Republican, I'm not a libertarian, I'm not any of those things and your health officers shouldn't be," said Hambley, "They should not be practicing politics in their role. They should be following good science, and they should be protecting everyone in the community, not just specific people. And that's really important to me. It's why when this happened, I reached out to Sarah [Howard], I think the integrity of the position is extremely important to the health of our community and our residents."

Attorney's for the commissioners argue Hambley was not officially appointed to the job during a December meeting. That was with a previous commission in place. 

"It's crystal clear that Hambly was not appointed as the permanent health officer back in December," said David Kallman, attorney for commissioners, "And she wasn't officially in that position till Jan. 3."

Kallman argued there was a violation of the Open Meetings Act, saying a requirement was dropped after the December meeting appointing Hambley. 

"A board cannot sit here and say to their chair or to the clerk, we're just going to do this general motion, just go do a resolution, put whatever you want in there. You can't do that. That's not permissible legally. It's a violation of the Open Meetings Act."

Hambley's attorney says that is not true. 

"We disagree significantly with that position that's taken by the defendants," said Sarah Howard, attorney for Hambley, "and we don't think there was any requirement that was drafted and we think the resolution was in front of the board and nobody wrote one that they weren't authorized to."

Earlier this month, Judge Jenny McNeill ruled that Hambley showed "she requires relief to maintain the status quo," and said Hambley cannot be removed from her position at this time.


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