In 2020, federal, state and local health bureaucrats exerted sweeping powers over the lives of Americans in the name of Covid-19 virus protection. For many of us, this was our first venture into the tyranny of public health, while others had previously experienced it on issues such as vaccine waivers for school.
As seen with the predictable push for Covid-19, flu, and childhood vaccines, public health entities have been trained to achieve public action by invoking fear and panic. Public health has traditionally used social media and media partnerships, flexing government authority, and threats of legal action to obtain compliance with their wishes. These methods were locked in place prior to the Covid-19 era, at which time they were put on steroids.
With the onset of Covid-19, local and national public health organizations ramped up efforts to explore the legal power and authority of public health entities. At the same time, progressive narratives such as climate change, gender affirming care, abortion, racial equity, and social justice are increasingly identified as public health concerns— all while nations consider conceding their sovereignty during public health crises to the WHO.
Public Health Powers and NGO Allies
The Ottawa County Department of Public Health has been held up as an example with several awards in recent years from the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), a non-governmental organization (NGO) which has explored and promoted the legal authority of local health entities. NACCHO’s affiliate business partners and sponsors include Pfizer, Moderna, and other medical industry companies. During the Covid-19 response, Ottawa County was a contributor to NACCHO’s webinar, COVID-19: Drive-thru Vaccination Clinics and Local Health Departments.
NACCHO, its state chapter the Michigan Association for Local Public Health (MALPH), and the Network for Public Health Law (NPHL) were included in an original amicus brief filed in the appeal regarding the Interim Health Director’s personal lawsuit against the County. MALPH and NACCHO have also participated in media coverage related to Ms. Hambley.
In recent weeks, Ottawa County’s Deputy Health Officer, Marcia Mansaray, travelled to Tacoma, Washington, to present a break-out session for the National Association of Local Boards of Health with Denise Chrysler from NPHL. Mansaray presented, I Used the Law and the Law Won: Using Law to Advocate and Defend Public Health Power. Marcia provided training to her public health peers on how she has pushed back on the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners connected with Ottawa Impact who she is so vehemently opposed to. Representing herself as an employee of Ottawa County and an individual, she falsely accused the Board of violating OMA, and gave a vivid description of the legal and political tactics she employed to actively oppose the Board.
Marcia Mansaray, Deputy Health Administrator
I Used the Law and the Law Won: Using Law to Advocate and Defend Public Health Power
Tacoma, Washington (August 2023)
“The presentation will focus on Ottawa County, Michigan, and public health officials’ courageous actions to use law to fight back, protecting public health against members of a newly elected governing body that sought to weaken public health power and to replace a professional public health official with a politician who aligns with their agenda. We will cover public health’s successful defense against lawsuits to limit public health authority, a lawsuit filed by the Health Officer to enjoin actions to undermine her authority and implementation of public health laws, a Local Public Health Administrator’s exercise of her personal right to express herself as a private citizen to expose a political agenda to dismantle health department powers and clinical services, and the role of the state health department in overseeing the local public health system. We will also cover the local media and grassroots advocacy, which have been key in exposing violations of the open meetings act and other laws to advance an anti‐public health agenda.”
The leadership of the Ottawa County Department of Public Health has worked overtime to erode the public’s confidence in the Board and to incite fear and panic in an effort to undo an election by the people in the community they serve. Predictably, public health leaders are using their tried and true methods of social media, media allies, and law fare.
The People Choose Freedom over Public Health Power
Why is Ottawa County Department of Public Health leadership actively opposed to the people’s choice of elected representatives who serve on the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners? Public health overreach during Covid-19 ignited a passion for freedom and parental rights nationwide— an undesirable response from the perspective of public health bureaucracies and NGOs which puts newly exercised public health powers at risk.
In Ottawa County, this passion inspired parents to create Ottawa Impact, and resulted in a local election which placed a majority of conservative commissioners on the county board who were committed to reining in the unconstitutional powers which had been exercised by the health department.
Currently, while acting in coordination with public health activist NGO’s, the Ottawa County Department of Public Health accepts little input or oversight from the Board of Commissioners. This was evidenced by the denial of obvious activity and involvement at the over-the-top Grand Valley Sex Education week, as well as the minimizing of health department presence at the drag queen event at Grand Haven Pride where children were present. Additionally, the health department does not review or accept input on media communications from the county communications director before release.
The People’s Budget
The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners is now working through the county budget. The Board Chair and other commissioners have a reasonable desire to return health department spending to pre-Covid levels, while ensuring the county meets the needs of the community. In response to this request, health department leaders have taken to social media and the media circuit with ridiculous accusations to announce their displeasure, rather than working towards budget solutions. The Board will not be slashing services to children or closing the health department doors.
We recognize change is hard, and reducing the size of government rarely happens, but it is time for health department leaders to return to the table and focus on the health department’s work on behalf of the people.
The conservative Board majority includes 2 nurses, a former social worker, a teacher, and those with business and government backgrounds. Board members bring decades of professional and life experience to their work, both in meeting the needs of people and in working through budgets. Despite public accusations, this is hardly a Board which is unsympathetic to ensuring the public health needs of children, families, and businesses are met. Board members are parents who specifically ran on parental rights and protecting children— and make children a priority in everything they do.
“Protecting children and parental rights is a top priority, it’s what we love to do.”
Board Vice-Chairperson, District 8
The new Board’s focus on unmet needs– increasing support for veterans by creating an enhanced Department of Veterans Affairs, prioritizing ADA compliance across the county in the CIP plan for the county’s buildings, and recommending notification of vaccine waivers and informed consent are provided to parents— is indicative of the priorities and the backgrounds of the new board of commissioners. The board is initiating action on items ignored in the past, with potential for significant positive impact for members of our community.
Addressing COVID-19 Budget and Staffing Levels
1000 Parent Meeting
On 8/24/21, the prior Board approved $2,179,153.00 for 17 full-time, benefited positions, and 25 part-time non-benefited positions to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, there was disagreement among the Board about approving these positions, with a recognition the positions were being used for the controversial handling of the pandemic while the people were requesting relief from county government overreach into their lives, as evidenced by the 1000 parents present at the meeting.
The health department budget grew significantly due to Covid-19 from 2020 to 2023, and the budget first proposed by the department for 2024 continued at this higher level. The Covid-19 pandemic has ended. In addition, the health department has an excess of $3 million currently in their fund balance.
The Interim Health Director was recently asked to provide budget scenarios in line with the Board’s request to return health department spending to pre-Covid levels as the Board works towards finalizing the budget. Rather than answering the reasonable and responsible questions from the Board— rather than building a workable budget and advocating for the specific components of public health which do important work, the health department has focused their time and energy on social media and the media circuit to publicize fear and panic while threatening lawfare.
“It’s time to return the Public Health budget back to pre-Covid levels and save taxpayers millions of dollars.”
Board Chairperson, District 5
At a time when professional leadership is needed, the Interim Health Director refuses to participate in a normal operating budget process, refusing to answer questions or produce requested budget drafts. It’s not possible to effectively advocate for employees or the community you serve when you have removed yourself from conversation and the negotiation table.
Instead, health department leadership is writing dramatic Facebook posts and doing media interviews without sharing full information to either the public or the board. In so doing, they are creating unnecessary fear and panic for individuals and families in the community— some of whom have special needs children— while discrediting the Board and county government. Leadership in the health department is not operating in good faith.
Maintaining Personal and Departmental Power
Perhaps their priority is not public health services. Perhaps health department leadership is more concerned with maintaining personal and departmental power— a priority of the NGOs they coordinate with, than they are in the continuation of public health services to the community.
Perhaps they are discontent with the Board majority’s stand against some of the progressive priorities of the department. And perhaps they believe creating panic and upset with the current board could prove helpful to their personal participation in the recall efforts against Commissioner Ebel.
Whatever the underlying motivation, it is time for health department leadership to focus on serving the people of Ottawa County— which is what they are employed to do.
The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners will continue to work to meet the needs of the people, fulfilling the requirements of county government with excellence, while protecting the individual freedoms and parental rights of our people.