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Board member pulls out rifle during remote Grand Traverse County Commission meeting

Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners

Ron Clous, vice chair of the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners, showed off a rifle as a constituent voiced concerns about guns during a virtual meeting Wednesday.

During the public comment period, a resident expressed concerns that members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of violence in the state, had attended a previous meeting.

The group came to show support for a resolution the board eventually passed on the Second Amendment.

“I can certainly appreciate people wanting to have their gun rights protected,” she said. “But ... permission has been given to these activist groups to do more with their guns than go out hunting.”

During her comments Clous, a Republican representing District 5, left his seat and returned with a rifle, showing it to the camera as she spoke. He laughed as he eventually set the weapon aside.

Clous could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Board Chair Rob Hentschel (R) said the moment was ironic and added it was Clous’ licensed firearm. Hentschel says Clous did nothing wrong.

“Why would you punish a government official for having a gun?” Hentschel said.

Hentschel also said the Proud Boys were given the same public comment rights as everyone else.

Betsy Coffia is one of two Democrats on the board. She says her phone has been ringing off the hook with upset constituents since the meeting ended. Clous’ act was a veiled threat and should be punished, Coffia said, although she doesn’t know if he broke any laws.

“He is in a position of leadership and that was deeply unsettling and disturbing, and possibly criminal behavior,” she said.

Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg and Sheriff Tom Bensley could not be reached for comment.

Separately the board debated and eventually passed a resolution criticizing the pandemic orders from the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services. The resolution passed 5 - 2, with votes falling along party lines.

“The threat from the virus, though serious, has resulted in a thwarting of personal freedoms without sufficient regard for ongoing and potentially irreparable economic, emotional, educational and other societal impacts,” the resolution reads.

“The orders by the MDHHS lack legislative support of the democratically elected representatives, having been initiated unilaterally and unconstitutionally by the Governor of Michigan,” it continues.

This is the latest of several tense meetings of the board, which has passed resolutions on hot-button issues like the Second Amendment, Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline, the separation of church and state and now the state’s Covid-19 response.

Hentschel said this is how some state legislation actually starts — through county commissions passing sometimes symbolic resolutions. He added that besides these controversial resolutions, he believes the board works well together.