WEST OLIVE, Mich. — Dozens of people gathered in the front courtyard of the Ottawa County administration building Tuesday afternoon, listening to the commissioners meeting that was going on inside and paying close attention to the public comment portion.
“As for the space limitations there are two reasons for this. One is COVID,” said chairman Roger A. Bergman during the meeting. “We cannot have people congregating inside without social distancing. Second, there was some bullying and heckling of certain people who spoke on one side of the masking issue last time. We cannot tolerate this at our meeting today.”
The changes were made after the last meeting, in which dozens of people were inside the building, shouting during the meeting, one commissioner said to FOX 17.
So, this time only a few people were allowed inside at a time. Once they were done speaking at the podium and walked out, another small group walked in.
“As for the reduction of two minutes to one, this will be the second time we’ve heard public comment on the limited mask mandate in schools,” Bergman said. “The first took seven hours. Apparently, there were up to 1,000 citizens last time. Most could not wait that long to speak. If we have 300 citizens who wished to speak, even a minute each this will likely take up to 10 hours.”
Dozens gathered outside of Ottawa County bldg listening to meeting going on inside, via speakers. Only a few ppl allowed inside at a time to comment due to COVID and new changes. County board chairman says changes were made to public comment due to bullying last time. // @FOX17 pic.twitter.com/cveJdknQmJ— Lauren Edwards (@LaurenEdwardsTV) September 14, 2021
Each speaker was given one minute to speak instead of the usual two minytes. A 60-second timer was shown on the TV monitor in the meeting room. One woman voiced her concerns about the new changes to meetings.
“The amazing men and women in uniform, you gentlemen who I voted for to uphold my freedoms have always been a beacon of justice, a safe haven. I respect and admire you all. I have always known that this building and all that is within it stood for that. I could come to this public building as a law-abiding citizen and you were all here for me,” she said. “That access was restricted a little bit here today and that was a scary feeling that I hope to never feel again. I respectfully don’t believe that that is right.”
Masking was another highly-discussed topic. Some of the people who remained outside carried signs that read Unmask our Children and 12,000 School Days Missed while others inside the building spoke about their concerns regarding the mask mandates.
“You guys are laying down to the health department. You’re laying down to the education system. All of it. You’re making those kids mask up for no good reason. COVID is garbage,” said a resident from Chester. “You have all of these things going on. You don’t care about your citizens.”
Bergman opened the meeting by addressing people’s concerns regarding the local mask mandate.
“I want to remind everyone wishing to offer public comment today that the state legislature by statute has vested authority in the Ottawa County Health Officer with the authority to issue the limited mask mandate that she has issue,” Bergman said. “The board has no authority to reverse her decision [or] fire her because she made it or defund the health department because of a band-aid.”
Of the dozens who spoke, many were opposed to the meeting changes and masking. However, one woman voiced her appreciation for the boards efforts.
“Thank you for implementing changes to the public comment process to help ensure everyone’s safety. Thank you for following the rule of law,” said a resident from Georgetown Township. “I’m sure it’s not easy in such a polarized climate, where as a community we do not agree on basic facts or sources of credible information. I want my community to be one where thoughtful dialogue and learning can occur.”