GT County board delays punishing commissioner who pulled out rifle at public meeting

Jan 29, 2021

The Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners
Credit Grand Traverse County

The Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners held a special meeting Thursday after Co-Chair Ron Clous pulled out a rifle during a constituent's public comment last week

They debated a resolution that deemed displaying weapons while a member of the public is speaking to be “inappropriate and unacceptable behavior.”

“While well intentioned, this display disturbed many members of our community [...] and many questioned the motivations of Vice-chairman Clous,” it reads.

Around four hours of public comment later, the board moved the item to the agenda of their next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 3.

The current resolution largely was not well received. Most callers said it didn’t go far enough. Many demanded formal apologies and resignations from Clous and Hentschel, as detailed in a letter to the board submitted by Traverse City Attorney Michael Naughton. It has 1,400 signatures.

County resident TJ Andrews called the resolution weak and unapologetic.

“It doesn’t even acknowledge let alone attempt to rectify the harm that’s been caused to our community by these actions,” she said.

Several other residents called into the virtual meeting to say the incident had been blown out of proportion and to defend Clous and Hentshcel.

“People need to stop getting so upset regarding such things. There was no intimidation,” said another caller who declined to give her name.

Clous pulled out a rifle during a virtual meeting of the board in January as a constituent was voicing concerns about the presence of weapons and the fact that members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of violence, had attended a previous board meeting in Traverse City.

The incident has received national attention after Board Chairman Rob Hentschel (R-District 7) said Clous wouldn’t be punished. Hentschel, who laughed as Clous pulled out the gun, is also facing calls to resign.

“It was not my intention that anyone would feel disenfranchised,” he said. “I do apologize for the effect that had on some people.”

Clous' actions have been been criticized by business owners, attorneys, and politicians in northern Michigan, including Betsy Coffia, one of two Democrats on the board.

“I don’t think [this resolution] is gonna cut it,” she said. “I’m afraid that unless it’s accompanied by a no-excuses apology and a full censure by this board … that it won’t be enough to put this matter to rest.”

Kit Tholen, with the county prosecutor’s office, added that he’s aware of one lawsuit that might be filed against the county related to the incident.

Another resolution had already been introduced for the next meeting of the board that would condemn Clous’ actions.