WEST OLIVE, Mich. — Ottawa County held its first Board of Commissioners meeting of 2024 on Tuesday.
That wasn't the only first— Chairperson Joe Moss spoke on camera with FOX 17 for the first time.
It comes after multiple requests for interviews since last January.
Moss explained he's looking forward to the new year after the board unanimously approved him as the chairperson for a second year.
"(I'm) really excited for this year. (I'm) looking forward to it and really thankful for the efforts of the board members," Moss said.
The chairperson talked to FOX 17 for just more than 12 minutes.
FOX 17 asked him what he thinks were the board majority's biggest accomplishments of 2023.
"I'm really glad that all the board members really invested a lot of time last year to learn about the operations of the board that turn over most of the members. So really digging in and learning all about county government. That was really great. I'm really, really glad that we abolished the DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) department," Moss answered.
Another accomplishment he listed was creating the county's new Department of Veterans Affairs.
"We're really looking to do is just build and expand on that and really focus on serving veterans into the future," Moss added.
At Tuesday's county commission meeting, Jason Schenkel was named as the department's new director. He's a 23-year Army veteran and a former employee with the Department of Labor and Department of Veteran Affairs. Schenkel says he's ready to get to work.
"Big thing is going to be a needs-based assessment. I really need to dig deep to see what we need and what our veterans and families in Ottawa County need. That would be my first step to really do a deep dive of what we need to do," Schenkel said.
Ottawa County had its fair share of controversy in 2023. A big one was funding for the health department.
During a meeting in August, Moss suggested dropping the public health budget down to pre-COVID levels. He mentioned a $2.5 million general fund contribution, and no COVID grants.
"When the pandemic started, there was a significant increases in public health as they responded to the pandemic. We've seen what types of responses there have been. We've seen also the reaction to those responses, with the people of Ottawa County asking for a new direction, making sure that the county prioritizes freedom and things like that. I'd love to see that budget go back to kind of what it has been historically, maybe put it down towards $2.5 (million) in the general fund allocation," Moss said in an August committee meeting.
Ultimately, that amount was increased.
FOX 17 asked where the $2.5 million number came from.
"That came from Adeline Hambley. She provided some graphs and some other notes in the very beginning, and $2.5 (million) was an average of the numbers that she had given. And so we just started, kind of start at the base and build our way up," Moss said.
FOX 17 pointed out that Moss said during that meeting that it came from looking online.
"Yeah, she had sent information via email. And I also pulled information from all of the past budgets," Moss added.
FOX 17 hasn't seen the email Moss is referencing.
There's also been back and forth with the county's Health Officer Adeline Hambley. Hambley sued in February 2023 after commissioners voted 7-1 to demote her to interim.
Months later, she was accused of incompetence, misconduct, and neglect of duty for speaking out about proposed cuts during the budgeting process.
The commission held a two-day hearing in November to consider whether to remove her from office. Instead, the board discussed a possible settlement.
Moss made a motion to the board to "accept counsel's recommendation regarding litigation and settlement activities in the case of Hambley v. Ottawa County as addressed during closed session."
That motion passed 7-3.
FOX 17 asked what the recommendation was that he was referencing.
"You'd like me to disclose, illegally disclose?" Moss responded.
FOX 17 reporter Matt Witkos followed up. "No, but I'm trying to understand what you meant by recommendation."
"If you have any other questions, I'd be happy to answer," Moss replied.
FOX 17 moved on from that question. The county is in a legal fight over whether Hambley and the county agreed to a $4 million settlement.
FOX 17 also asked Moss about the "Childhood Innocence Resolution" passed in June 2023.
Commissioners Doug Zylstra and Roger Bergman voted against it and are now facing recall efforts as a result.
"We want to make sure that money is spent well in a neutral manner supporting families supporting filling the role of government and making sure that there are no funds on the sexualization of children," Moss said.
The commission's Ottawa Impact majority has also faced criticism for hiring Kallman Legal Group as corporate counsel without putting out a bid.
According to numbers tallied by FOX 17, the firm has billed the county around $426,000 since they were brought on in January 2023.
The group has also charged more than $150,000 to represent the county in lawsuits.
Moss says he supports their work.
"I really appreciate their expertise. I like their perspective. They're focused on supporting the Constitution. And, they really are looking at being excellent in their work, and so I appreciate that," Moss said.
Moss does have a business partner who is related to David Kallman. He's one of the lead attorneys at the firm.
"I trust my business partner, and I was looking for someone else we could trust. When I realized that it was possible, we might be able to work with one of the top law firms in the state, it was a no-brainer," Moss said.
You can watch FOX 17's full interview with Moss below:
January 3 marks one year since the new commission was sworn in and implemented changes.