Emmet County commissioners reaffirm removal in close vote
Emmet County commissioners stuck with a decision to remove a health board assignment from a commissioner who said he didn't support health grants.
Commissioners first voted 5-1 to remove Commissioner Rich Ginop from the regional Board of Health on Sept. 11. Ginop abstained, and Commissioner Charles Laughbaum cast the lone “no.”
But an attempt to reopen discussion on Ginop’s actions failed by a closer margin Sept. 21, in a 4-3 vote on a motion by Commissioner Matt Koontz.
“I guess that takes the wind out of the sail for now,” Ginop said after the vote was recorded.
Ginop faced criticism for not supporting various grant opportunities presented to the Health Department of Northwest Michigan in recent months.
Residents gave more than an hour of public comment, both supporting and condemning the county’s decision to have Ginop removed from the Board of Health.
Emmet County resident Bob Wiley told the board their decision was inappropriate.
“I hope you find a way to reverse your actions,” Wiley said. “Discourse on this issue is painful, but I think appropriate, and serves the community well, so that all sides can be heard.”
A group of people wearing green buttons reading “I support local public health,” also spoke.
Petoskey resident Mary Lieberman read from a list of dozens of Emmet County voters who she said are in favor of Ginop’s removal. The full list of people took nearly 15 minutes to read through by six different people.
After the meeting, Ginop declined to comment further on the board’s decision.
Approving health grants have been an ongoing source of conflict on the regional eight-person health board, made up of two commissioners from each of the counties it represents.
At an Aug. 17 Emmet County commission meeting, Koontz questioned Ginop’s rejection of grant proposals to provide dental care for children and nicotine awareness in high schools. Ginop did not explain his position.
When asked if he would continue to violate the code of ethics by rejecting grants that fit into Michigan’s Public Health Code, Ginop said he would. Koontz said this admission showed Ginop is in violation of the ethics code.
Specifically, three commissioners — Neil Ahrens, David White and Koontz — indicated in an Aug. 23 letter to County Administrator David Boyer that Ginop violated this section:
Michigan Sections (B) 11 states: “County Commissioners shall represent the official policies or positions of the Board of Commissioners to the best of their ability when designated as delegates for this purpose. When presenting their individual opinions and positions, County Commissioners shall neither state nor imply that they represent the opinions or positions of the Board of Commissioners or Emmet County, and must affirmatively state that it is their own opinion or position, and not that of the Board of Commissioners. Commissioners shall always be mindful of the needs of the entire county, and not just the district they represent.”
In Sept. 21 meeting, Commissioner Don Mapes, who also represents Emmet County on the Board of Health, said he regrets his initial vote to remove Ginop.
But, “It wouldn’t have impacted the outcome.”
“I wanted to reach out and snatch it back but I obviously couldn't,” Mapes said of his vote.
“The circumstances leading up to the decision by the board were unfortunate. I, too, was surprised by Rich’s answer. But that is not the Rich I know. And he has since apologized, but that didn't seem to matter.”
Mapes declined further requests for comment after the meeting.
Commissioner Neil Ahrens, a Navy veteran and owner of Ahrens Gallery and Studio, was chosen to take Ginop’s place on the Board of Health.
He said he intends to uphold the expertise of health department staff.
“I go into it with an open mind. And I'm not going to be a rubber stamp for everything,” Ahrens said. “I do my research, I listen, if I have questions I ask people, and I move forward with reasonableness and attentiveness.”
Record-Eagle reporter Elizabeth Brewer contributed to this article.