After Ottawa Co. board dismantled the DEI dept., residents fear … – Michigan Advance

Kate Colburn, the manager director of Out on the Lakeshore, a Holland-based Pleasure middle, mentioned she’s afraid of what it’d imply for the neighborhood’s marginalized teams after the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners this month axed the county’s Variety, Fairness and Inclusion (DEI) Division.

DEI, at any degree of presidency, impacts our members considerably by means of entry to programming and hiring insurance policies. It additionally simply provides a sense of inclusion and belonging, and proper now that’s the largest impact that the dissolution of this workplace is inflicting,” Colburn mentioned. “Proper now, within the rapid, the response is only a feeling of worry and feeling like that is not a spot that we, LGBTQ+ of us, are seen, heard and valued.”

After a slate of far-right Republicans gained the vast majority of seats on the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners in November, their first official actions within the new yr had been stunning to many neighborhood members.

On the first assembly of the yr, the board voted to hearth the county’s high health officer and rent Nathaniel Kelly, an anti-masker; eradicate its DEI Division; hearth the county administrator John Shay and appoint John Gibbs, who misplaced Nov. 8 within the third Congressional District to Democrat U.S. Rep Hillary Scholten; and alter the county motto from “The place You Belong” to “The place Freedom Rings.”

Fairness and inclusion is a nonpartisan situation. This isn’t partisan politics, nor ought to it’s,” Colburn mentioned. “Belonging ought to be apolitical and positively nonpartisan. However we’re seeing it politicized in a means that’s actually uncomfortable and horrifying.”

Nathaniel Kelly

State regulation requires Ottawa County to submit proof of Kelly’s {qualifications} as a way to get accredited by the state. Nonetheless, greater than two weeks after the announcement to rent Kelly, the Michigan Division of Well being and Human Providers (DHHS) mentioned proof of Kelly’s {qualifications} nonetheless haven’t been submitted. 

Kelly is the protection supervisor for the Pluene Service Firm in Grand Rapids, a heating air flow and air-con enterprise. Commissioners on Jan. 3 mentioned Kelly has a grasp’s levels of science in public well being and occupational well being from Columbia Southern College, a web based college primarily based in Alabama.

The seven far-right commissioners who ran below the Ottawa Impression banner efficiently ousted seven GOP incumbents on the West Michigan board. 

Roger Bergman, the lone Republican incumbent who wasn’t changed by a member of Ottawa Impression, mentioned the earlier board “just about knew” that the DEI division can be reduce. Final month, members accredited a three-month severance package deal for DEI Director Robyn Afrik in preparation of her getting fired by the incoming board.

“That was certainly one of their targets they spoke of even earlier than coming into workplace. It was certainly one of their predominant targets, so it wasn’t a shock,” Bergman mentioned. “We’ve been working onerous to make sure that everybody feels welcomed. However contemplating how the general public views Ottawa County, it has definitely been certainly one of our targets to point out that we’re a welcoming neighborhood for anybody from any background.”

Sylvia Rhodea, the fee vice chair and co-founder of Ottawa Impression, mentioned in the course of the second board assembly this yr that the DEI Division and the county’s earlier motto had been “divisive.”

“There isn’t a racial divide in our county,” she mentioned. “There may be an ideological divide in our nation.”

On the Jan. 3 assembly, Rhodes mentioned that the “The place you belong” motto was “used to ascertain the Variety, Fairness and Inclusion Division on the premise that county resident traits of being 90% white and largely conservative had been problematic for companies.”

Ottawa County Board of Commissioners assembly, Jan. 3, 2023 | Screenshot

Bergman mentioned he’s acquired near 1,000 emails inside days after the Board’s first assembly, lots of which had been residents sharing their issues. 

“In keeping with about 80% of my emails that I’ve gotten, I’d say that the general public could be very disgusted as to what occurred. They’re sad and plenty of of them mentioned proper out that this exhibits that we’re unwelcoming to anybody aside from somebody that may be a white Christian,” Bergman mentioned.

Along with the emails, dozens of residents, each for and towards the modifications made by the brand new members, confirmed as much as final week’s board assembly to offer public remark. 

Larry Jackson, a Black Holland resident who unsuccessfully ran because the Democratic nominee for the 86th Michigan Home District within the Nov. 8 election and now serves because the treasurer for the Ottawa County Democratic Get together, mentioned the board has despatched the message that “we aren’t welcome right here.”

“Ottawa County is among the quickest rising counties within the state, and it’s not rising much less numerous. It’s rising extra numerous,” Jackson mentioned, including that he’s fearful about how it will impression the various workforce within the county, particularly as new companies plan to maneuver in. 

“LG [Corporation] is constructing a brand new facility right here with 400 new staff. We have now to consider who the worker base [is] and what it appears to be like like. All of the folks which can be engaged on the flooring in manufacturing, that’s going to be a various group of individuals,” he mentioned. 

Ottawa County is among the quickest rising counties within the state, and it isn’t rising much less numerous. It is rising extra numerous.

– Holland resident and Ottawa County Democratic Get together Treasurer Larry Jackson

Girls of Shade Give, a Holland-based philanthropic collective for girls from numerous cultural backgrounds, declined to touch upon the actions of the board. 

Gloria Lara, the manager director of Lakeshore Ethnic Variety Alliance, additionally declined to remark instantly on the Ottawa Board of Commissioners, however provided that “boards in any respect ranges ought to observe glorious authorities processes to make sure that they’re following their bylaws and to make sure that they’re clear to whoever their public is.”

Ottawa County is among the most constantly Republican counties in Michigan. The final time a Democratic presidential candidate gained the lakeshore county was in 1864 within the election between incumbent President Abraham Lincoln and Democratic opponent George B. McClellan. In 2020, President Joe Biden had the perfect efficiency of any Democratic presidential candidate in Ottawa County since 1964, profitable about 38% of the vote.

Bergman mentioned that he additionally fears this abrupt change may have a unfavorable impression on the various workforce in Ottawa County and can discourage staff and employers from transferring to the county.

Lakeshore Benefit, a nonprofit financial improvement group primarily based in Zeeland, mentioned “the No. 1 problem reported by employers on this area is entry to expertise.”

“Our analysis exhibits that employers who proactively put money into variety, fairness and inclusion methods usually tend to develop. Our crew will proceed to be laser targeted on serving to employers appeal to, retain, and develop expertise on this extraordinarily tight labor market,” mentioned Grace Maiullo, a Lakeshore Benefit spokesperson.

Grand Valley State College | Allison R. Donahue

Grand Valley State College (GVSU), the one public college in Ottawa County, is also impacted by the board’s actions. For this present faculty yr, GVSU has 21,648 enrolled college students, greater than 3,000 staff and a Fiscal Yr 2023 basic fund finances of almost $353 million.

“I’d wager that there are college students who could also be Grand Valley and researching Allendale and researching the county, they usually could rethink attending GVSU or making use of to GVSU sadly,” mentioned Chasity Bailey-Fakhoury, a school facilitator at GVSU’s Inclusion and Fairness Institute and an affiliate professor within the Faculty of Training and Group Innovation.

Bailey-Fakhoury mentioned that the Board’s resolution to chop the DEI division can even possible make it tougher for GVSU college students, particularly these from numerous backgrounds, to seek out jobs within the surrounding neighborhood. 

“The selections that had been made in our county may have a ripple impact past the county, the supervisors and the elected officers there. It is going to have a unfavorable ripple impact for companies and establishments which can be located throughout the county and past,” Bailey-Fakhoury mentioned. “As a result of it’s not solely the county. Now of us are West Michigan writ massive and questioning our dedication to being a spot of belonging, inclusion and advancing fairness.”

It is going to be one other two years earlier than voters may have an opportunity to vary the make-up of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners, though many residents have introduced up the potential of recalling some board members.

Grand Valley State College | Susan J. Demas

Bergman mentioned he hopes the brand new members will consider the neighborhood’s response to the modifications. 

Jackson and different Ottawa County activists are constructing a countywide coalition, the Unifying Coalition of Ottawa County (UCOC), to assist Democrats run in 2024 to switch the Ottawa Impression commissioners. Vote Frequent Good-West Michigan, a nonpartisan nonprofit that has been lively since 2020, and Ottawa Integrity, a nonpartisan PAC based in early 2022 in response to the actions of Ottawa Impression, are the 2 organizations behind the brand new coalition.

“The actions of the brand new Ottawa Impression-backed majority on the County Board have galvanized a way of urgency and contemporary power all through Ottawa County,” mentioned Kim Nagy, the manager director of Ottawa Integrity. “UCOC is our two organizations’ swift, collaborative response to the decision for extra coordination and synergy amongst leaders and teams that stand in opposition to Ottawa Impression.”

A recall effort is feasible after six months in workplace, making July 3 the earliest date for a recall effort to be launched. A recall petition should obtain signatures from at the very least 25% of the variety of voters in the newest gubernatorial election. 

Within the meantime, Colburn mentioned she is anxious about marginalized communities getting pushed additional into the margins within the meantime. 

Does this imply that people who don’t consider that we ought to be right here can be given extra of a voice, and due to this fact there can be a ripple impact throughout the neighborhood? It’s onerous to say,” Colburn mentioned. “However that worry is certainly there and it’s actual.”

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