June 30, 2022
Jessica Mathews / [email protected]
Today marks the last day for the Livingston County Health Officer and the Board of Commissioners appears no closer to appointing anyone to the post.
Longtime manager Diane McCormick is retiring. She recommended that the board appoint deputy health officer Matt Bolang to the post, who is also director of environmental health. The board debated whether to nominate Bolang or launch a search — which would cost around $21,000.
Following a lengthy meeting on Monday, again mostly dominated by public comment, the board voted to table a resolution that would have created a special committee to oversee the nomination, determine whether a search should be pursued. and, if so, what parameters.
Chairman Wes Nakagiri and commissioners Doug Helzerman and Jay Drick opposed tabling the resolution in the absence of Mitchell Zajac.
At a previous meeting where the issue was discussed at length, Commissioners Helzerman, Carol Griffith, Martin Smith and Jay Gross all voiced their support for Bolang – saying the county already has an excellent, well-qualified candidate in place with knowledge. and years of experience. Those who preferred that a search be carried out were Nakagiri and Commissioners Brenda Plank, Carol Sue Reader and Drick. Zajac was absent.
An organized group including a number of parents attended meetings calling for “exhaustive research” and for the council not to “endorse” a candidate. Many students and companies said they’ve suffered enough and that they “won’t tolerate another bully” and want someone in the role who represents “medical freedom” and will push back warrants. Many also referenced what they saw as excessive and illegal student quarantines, and made comments related to the Constitution and “we the people.”
Others pointed out that it didn’t seem like those pushing for broad research really wanted the best possible candidate, but rather someone with a different way of thinking about public health and policy who ignores science, ignores the state health department and protect the public health freedoms of citizens. One urged the board not to spend $21,000 to hire an anti-science outsider, saying it’s the same comments at every meeting with canned talking points from a small minority group of parents and their supporters pushing the “big lie” and a pro-Trump agenda.
Bolang was endorsed by many across the county, including Sheriff Mike Murphy and Sewer Commissioner Brian Jonckheere, who spoke on Monday.
Jonckheere said it’s up to the board to make the decision, but what worries him is the “orchestrated attempt” to intimidate people with like-minded talking points and people picketing the boards. places of business of the commissioners – which “is orchestrated by a member of our own community”.
Jonckheere said it was one of the most disgusting examples of government he had seen during his tenure in the county – adding that he thought he had seen it all with some townships, but “this is even lower “. He asked that the board not allow intimidation to guide the decision, whatever it is.
Jonckheere said they often saw him on people’s property and he received death threats and all kinds of negative interactions, but they never stooped so low to try to arm a group with weapons. talking points in order to pressure the other commissioners into making a decision – adding it is sad and seen by “all your heads of departments, directors and their deputies”.
The resolution named Reader, Helzerman and Plank as members of the proposed committee.
Helzerman said his hunch was that they wouldn’t find anyone better than Bolang and that he could do without the extra step of a search, but would be willing to serve on the committee.
Reader said the board spent a lot of time last year developing protocols to follow for nominations and felt a committee might not be needed at the moment and staff could get away with it. to occupy.
Griffith again referenced their strategic plan, succession planning and protocols. She expressed concerns if they were going to start picking and choosing different departments with succession planning.
Nakagiri again stressed the desire for a search to find the best possible candidate, saying the position holds “enormous authority” to quarantine individuals and infringe on their rights.
Smith was not happy with the process or the proposed resolution. He said he was not told until he saw the agenda and was never asked to serve on a committee – adding that the words “I , my and me” have been used a lot on the subject and he thinks it speaks “very ugly to us”. the “lack of inclusion” of non-participating members of the proposed committee made it even more worrisome.
Smith said he understands Bolang has already passed the milestone with MDHHS and had years of service — including working on a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. He further stated that he felt McCormick had done a masterful job of trying to draw a fine line between dictating very unpopular positions rejected by the CDC and trying to allow people to have that personal decision-making freedom to their own health.
Smith said it was a “very difficult position to place” and believes McCormick has done a masterful job of trying to give the best advice possible without a warrant – adding “the Department deserves a salute as opposed to this that he gets today”.
It was stated at the meetings that whoever is appointed by the board must also be ultimately approved by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The board will request more information on this due to the uncertainty regarding the requirements.
It was also stated that Bolang has been appointed as acting director until a replacement is determined so that the Department is not headless during discussions.