The Jeff Bezos Post sent two reporters to Grand Haven, Michigan, a town of 11,011 people and the county seat of Ottawa County. Their job was to do his newspaper’s version of a story in Politico in February, “What It Looks Like When the Far Right Takes Control of Local Government.”
The Jeff Bezos newspaper titled its entry in the hair-on-fire coverage of a western Michigan County’s politics, “In a thriving Michigan county, a community goes to war with itself.
“Ottawa County offers a glimpse of what happens when one of the building blocks of American democracy is consumed by ideological battles.”
The Post story began, “The eight new members of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners had run for office promising to ‘thwart tyranny’ in their lakeside Michigan community of 300,000 people.
“In this case the oppressive force they aimed to thwart was the county government they now ran. It was early January, their first day in charge. An American flag held down a spot at the front of the board’s windowless meeting room. Sea-foam green carpet covered the floor.
“The new commissioners, all Republicans, swore their oaths of office on family Bibles. And then the firings began. Gone was the lawyer who had represented Ottawa County for 40 years. Gone was the county administrator who oversaw a staff of 1,800. To run the health department, they voted to install a service manager from a local HVAC company who had gained prominence as a critic of mask mandates.”
The meeting was in January. The reporters were not present. But it ran pictures of the meeting taken by Evan Cobb, a freelance photographer from South Bend, Indiana. Maybe they interviewed him.
People elected an overwhelming majority of 8 new Republican commissioners (out of 11 commissioners) that the Jeff Bezos newspaper did not like. They made changes that the newspaper did not like, and so the Jeff Bezos Post said this threatened “the building blocks of American democracy.”
One of the changes made was to the county’s motto “that sat atop the county’s website and graced its official stationery.”
The 186-year-old county adopted that motto — Where You Belong — six years ago.
The new one is Where Freedom Rings.
Freedom must be a threat to democracy, too.
David Siders of Politico actually went to a meeting.
His story began, “The agenda for the Ottawa County governing board’s most recent meeting here last week listed, among other issues, a roof repair and resurfacing contract, a budget calendar that needed setting and, from IT, a request to hire one more employee.
“They were terrestrial concerns. But over the course of a meeting that ran more than four hours, public speaker after speaker in three-minute increments were debating something else entirely, something far more spiritual — to what extent their government should, or should not, pursue Judeo-Christian values.
“As snow dusted the streets outside the county building in this conservative, deeply religious swath of western Michigan, lots of people spoke in favor. They warned of the ‘tyranny” of mask mandates, the ‘sexualization of our children’ and the ‘unhinged caterwauling fascists’ of the left. One woman thanked the commissioners ‘for trying to bring our freedom back,’ while a man read to them from Isaiah: ‘Be not dismayed, for I am your God . . . I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’”
The full quote from Isaiah 41:10, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”
Public speaking is not a threat to democracy. That is democracy.
Now I could do a lengthy column about the threat of the excesses democracy — of basing laws on race and sex — of mobs robbing stores — of electing to the Senate an imbecile after he had a stroke. Ours is a constitutional republic that protects individuals from the savagery of mass hysteria. I grew up watching cowboy shows where a sheriff stood up to the crowd alone to stop the lynching a man charged with murder. Invariably, the accused was innocent.
But this is not excessive democracy. The people do have right to govern themselves. The people elected a new majority to the county commission because they were dissatisfied with the results of the previous one.
The willingness of the commissioners to sit and listen to people to vent in the public comment period is praiseworthy. It is a sign of patience and understanding. I just hope the commissioners had cushions and good bladders because those wooden seats are uncomfortable after a while.
That reporters did not like hearing about God and country does not make the speakers wrong for saying that.
Siders wrote, “In their first meeting, the new board members adopted a series of measures that changed things in Ottawa County. They fired the county administrator and replaced him with John Gibbs, a former Trump administration official, Christian missionary, failed congressional candidate and election denier who once suggested women should not have the right to vote. They ran out their corporate counsel. They closed the county’s office of diversity, equity and inclusion. They picked for their new public health officer — pending state approval — a safety manager at an HVAC service company who, during the covid pandemic, suggested ivermectin and neti-pots instead of social distancing and masks. And they rewrote the county motto.”
That commissioners cleaned house should be modus operandi for newly elected public officials. The county had the same lawyer for 40 years. That is easily 30 years too long no matter how good he is.
Likewise, after the failure of government to handle covid in a sane manner, changes in the health department are needed. Neti-pots worked as well as the masks, which have holes that are so much larger than the virus that people said it is like stopping mosquitoes with a chain-link fence.
The Jeff Bezos Post injected racism in its report, as it said, “The new slogan was largely the brainchild of Joe Moss, the 37-year-old new chair of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners and a newcomer to politics. Moss and his fellow commissioners oversaw a thriving county with a budget of $230 million. On a wall at the front of the meeting room where he now presided were 16 framed photographs of earlier boards, made up almost entirely of white, pro-business Republicans in jackets and ties.”
The county last voted for a Democrat presidential candidate in 1864 and it is 90% white. That the county thrives under all these white Republicans sends a message that I doubt the Post intended.
Charles P. Pierce of Esquire overreacted and gave the kneejerk liberal jerk reaction in a piece called, “An Otherwise Nondescript Michigan County F*cked Around With Its Career Public Servants.
“Now the Ottawa County board of commissioners and the people they serve will find out.”
Actually the people who fucked around and found out were those lifers in government because buried in the Jeff Bezos Post story was the motivation for the change in Ottawa County.
Paragraphs 18 and 19 said, “By his own admission, Moss had not paid much attention to local politics. He ran a small technology business and was focused on raising his children. Then, in the fall of 2020, the Ottawa County health department learned of a coronavirus outbreak at his daughter’s Christian school and ordered the school’s leaders to comply with the governor’s mask mandate. When they refused, state and county officials chained shut the school’s doors for more than a week and warned parents that continued resistance could bring fines and imprisonment.
“Suddenly, Moss realized that those dangerous people that his pastor had been talking about on Sundays were not just in Washington and Lansing, the state capital. They were in West Olive, where the county government was headquartered. ‘In 2020, I became a threatened parent,’ Moss said on the campaign trail. ‘I was threatened specifically . . . by Ottawa County.’”
That undercut the argument made by Politico and the Post that this is some sort of plot to destroy democratic institutions; no, it is a reaction to the excesses of those institutions.
The Post story said, “In late January, Moss came face to face with the head of the department that he saw as most responsible for trampling freedom in Ottawa County. Adeline Hambley, a 43-year-old with long gray hair and horn-rimmed glasses, had started with the county’s health department 19 years earlier as a field septic inspector.
“In one of the previous board’s last acts, the commissioners had picked her to replace her retiring boss. To the old board, Hambley seemed like a person who could work with the new Ottawa Impact board members.”
Oh good gravy. That was spite. And the new commission demoted her to acting director. She is suing. Apparently a bureaucrat’s right to employment trumps the people’s right to elect people to fire her.
We know which side the Jeff Bezos Post favors. Its readership is the bureaucracy. His newspaper standing up for the people would be like the Coal Valley News telling miners to learn to code.
Only in journalism is voting a threat to democracy.
What they might just as well say out loud is that it is only when conservatives, libertarians, and republicans vote is democracy threatened - and it SHOULD be, for this reason:
"Ours is a constitutional republic that protects individuals from the savagery of mass hysteria."
That is certainly the ideal - and perhaps was true, at some point - maybe still is... in Ottawa County, anyway.
"They closed the county’s office of diversity, equity and inclusion."
One of the best measures taken.
I would not like to live in a county run by The Washington Post