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Ottawa County Commissioners implement lobby restrictions for public comment

To avoid a packed house and any disruptions, the public will not be allowed to congregate in the hallways during commissioner meetings.

OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich — In preparation for Tuesday's Ottawa County Board of Commissioners meeting, officials reworked public attendance rules to avoid large crowds and a disruptive atmosphere in the administrative building. 

Last month, hundreds of protesters attended a board meeting to demand an end to the mask mandate in schools. The meeting lasted about seven hours for public comments. 

RELATED: 'Chanting, praying, and singing': Opponents of mask mandates flood Ottawa County Board of Commission Meeting 


Ottawa County Board of Commissioners Chair Roger Bergman said in statement he was impressed with the large number of folks who showed up to make their voices heard but was "very disappointed by the organized effort to bully and intimidate anyone who dared to speak in favor of a mask mandate in schools."

Health officials have since reiterated their authority to issue temporary public health orders. 

To prevent another rowdy public meeting, the commissioners have updated board rules for those attending.  

Those who want to attend meetings won't be able to congregate in the hallways, attendees or bring food or coolers. 

"In its new procedures, Ottawa County is merely attempting to create a procedure for all who want to express themselves to do so. As you may know, at the last meeting there was an unruly, raucous crowd in the lobby that heckled people who expressed themselves on one side of the mask mandate," Ottawa County Corporation Counsel Douglas Van Essen said in an email. 

"We cannot allow citizens who want to express themselves to be heckled or bullied. So, the restrictions on the lobby are designed to avoid that situation."

Each person who wants to make a public comment will need to sign in on a Google Doc with their name and township. Everyone who signs in will be allowed one minute to give their public comment. 

Here are the new procedures:

  1. The public will access the building through the main entrance on the upper level of the Fillmore Administration Building. The door on the far right side of the main entrance will be open where County staff will be at a table in the vestibule to sign in members of the public who wish to provide public comment on a Google Doc. You will have to provide your name and the city/township where you live. For those members of the public who do not wish to provide public comment, then they can watch the Board meeting on Zoom or YouTube without entering the building.
  2. The Board will allow the first five people to provide public comment during the first of two public comment periods on the agenda. The remainder of the public comments will occur during the second public comment period near the end of the agenda. Each person will have one minute to provide their public comment. A timer will be displayed on the Zoom screen to show everyone, including the speaker, how much time remains.
  3. The first five people who sign in will be directed to enter the Board Room and take a seat.
  4. The next 10 people to sign in will enter the building and be directed to the main lobby.
  5. The next 50 people to sign in will enter the building and be directed to the Main Conference Room. There will be County employees in the Main Conference Room, as well as monitors that will display the Board meeting and the Google Doc signup sheet, so the public will know when they will be directed to the main lobby.
  6. As soon as the first five people in the Board Room have completed their public comment, they will then be directed to exit the Board Room and proceed outside the building. The 10 people from the lobby will be directed by County employees into the Board Room. The next 10 people from the Main Conference Room will be directed to move to the lobby. This cycle will be repeated until all in-person public comments have finished. The public comments from people participating via Zoom will be heard last to be consistent with the County’s past practice.
  7. The public will not be allowed to congregate in the hallways to avoid disruption to the various departments that work in this area.
  8. The entrance at the lower level will be closed to those persons wishing to attend the Board meeting. Rather, they must enter through the main entrance on the upper level.
  9. Public restrooms will be available in the main lobby and across the hall from the Main Conference Room.
  10. The public will not be permitted to bring food or coolers into the building.

The board meets on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of each month at 1:30 p.m. 

You can read the Board Rules here.

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