County officials in several Michigan communities are testing the boundaries of their legal reach in limiting the powers of their local health departments.
More:The Health Department’s board will consider proposals to limit pandemic response
More:‘I can’t stay’: Peacock resigns as Northwest Michigan Health Department health officer
A resolution authored by Emmet County Board of Commissioners Chairman Rich Ginop and submitted to the Health Department of the Northwest Michigan Board of Health would require all government emergency measures related to the pandemic to expire after 28 days. Only a three-quarters vote of the full health board would be able to approve continued implementation of such measures — and then only on a month-to-month basis.
The resolution also states that the Department of Health will not impose, permit or enforce the mandate of the Covid-19 vaccine, mandatory masking or testing of asymptomatic individuals.
In a previous interview, Jeannope said he was inspired to write the resolution because “I’m sick and tired of so-called authorities lying to us and not telling us the truth about vaccine damage, deaths and injuries.”
There were doubts about the validity of the proposal before it went to a full discussion and vote.
Officials with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said the proposed 28-day period for health systems cannot be legally enforced by orders from MDHHS or the federal government.
“The court has consistently upheld MDHHS’ ongoing authority under the Public Health Code. MDHHS will continue to use its authority to protect the lives of the people of Michigan,” spokeswoman Chelsea Uth said in response to Genope’s resolution.
The board’s own counsel, attorney Matthew Cross, said the resolution was “not consistent with the health code.”
“Any restriction (you) are trying to impose on the health officer (is) inconsistent with the health code … most of these resolutions will be invalidated if it is subjected to a legal challenge,” he said.
The Board of Health has eight members – two each from the jurisdiction of the health departments of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmett and Otsego counties. The measure failed in a tie vote at the board’s April 4 meeting, which saw a strong vote from members of the public.
More:The Board of Health rejected a resolution to limit future pandemic responses
The meeting is not the first time the Northwest Michigan Health Department has drawn a standing-room-only crowd. A school mask mandate issued by then-health officer Lisa Peacock in August 2021 led to months of heated debate and efforts to remove Peacock from her position. Peacock eventually resigned, citing “a hostile work environment”.
The controversy follows a similar vein to the ongoing power struggle in Ottawa County to the south. The validity of a health official’s authority to issue a school mask mandate was tested in a now-dismissed case during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indeed, in Ottawa County, tensions were particularly high — the sitting health officer, Adeline Hambly, filed a lawsuit against several members of the county’s board of commissioners, later amended to include the board as a whole, after they “took steps to constructively terminate” her. Earlier this year.
Hambly was hired by the former board in December — before eight new members took over in January, many supported or affiliated with the Ottawa Impact PAC, a far-right political group born out of a clash over the county’s COVID-19 mitigation mandate in 2020.
Its founders, Joe Moss and Sylvia Rodia, unsuccessfully sued the previous board of commissioners and former county health officer Lisa Stefanowski.
More:Case: Health official says Ottawa impact commissioners targeted him
More:The Ottawa Impact commissioners moved to toss the Hambley case, claiming he was never hired.
In response, they targeted board seats in 2022, appointing like-minded candidates who agreed that “traditional Republicans” were not implementing true conservative policies.
During the new board’s first meeting, the seven commissioners named in Hambley’s lawsuit voted to promote him to “interim health officer” and replace him with an appointee who aligns with the new board’s views on COVID-19.
Hambley’s lawsuit claims the board is preventing him from doing his job. Since the lawsuit was filed, Hambly was granted a temporary restraining order, which prevents the board from firing him while the court case is pending.
In late February — after Hambley filed his lawsuit — Ottawa Impact commissioners voted 6-5 to change the wording of the resolution hiring Hambley, arguing in essence that he was never properly hired.
A hearing on the case was held in Muskegon County on March 31 — after all Ottawa County judges recused themselves from the case. Judge Jenny L. McNeill has heard arguments and will provide a written opinion “as soon as possible.” Time frame not given.
— Contact reporter Mitchell Boatman at [email protected]. Contact editor Jillian Fellows at [email protected].