Ottawa County commissioners fire county administrator

Ottawa County commissioners fire county administrator

Failed Republican congressional candidate John Gibbs was appointed Tuesday to serve as the new Ottawa County administrator after the newly elected Board of Commissioners abruptly fired the county’s current administrator John Shay.

The board amended its agenda Tuesday to include the action, arguing the county needed an administrator who “fully aligns” with and cooperates with the board, said commissioner Sylvia Rhodea.

“Our voters spoke very clearly about wanting a change of direction in the county,” Rhodea said. “…County leadership starts at the top.”

The board voted 6-3 to approve Gibbs employment and declined language that would allow Shay to stay on board for a transition period. Rhodea said Shay had a “very extensive severance” package.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first for a newly elected swath of county commissioners who were boosted by Ottawa Impact, a conservative Ottawa County group that grew from opposition to the county’s pandemic mask mandate. Ottawa Impact-backed candidates booted seven incumbent Republicans from the GOP-majority county board of commissioners in the GOP primary.

Gibbs, on assuming the role, congratulated the commissioners on their recent election, which shook up the formation of the board, and said “the Founding Fathers are looking down right now and are very proud.”

“Those of us in government are accountable to people and accountable to elected officials,” Gibbs said.

The board on Tuesday also brought on the conservative law firm Kallman Legal Group as its corporate counsel, changed the county’s vision statement, closed the county’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion department and voted to replace its administrative health officer with Nathaniel Kelly.

Shay was appointed unanimously in March and should be given the “benefit of the doubt” when it comes to his service to the county, some board members said.

“I am appalled that you all would do what you’re doing today,” said Commissioner Roger Bergman.

Gibbs lost the 3rd Congressional District race in November to Democratic candidate Hillary Scholten, making Scholten the first Democrat to represent the Grand Rapids area since the 1970s. The 3rd District includes portions of Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties.

Gibbs, who grew up in Lansing, worked as an engineer at Silicon Valley startups before serving as a Christian missionary in Japan. He later joined the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under former President Donald Trump, where he managed homelessness programs.

Gibbs received Trump’s endorsement in the congressional race over Republican incumbent Congressman Peter Meijer, who had voted in favor of impeaching Trump upon taking office in January 2021.