Kent County Health Department | Anna Gustafson
After Kent County Health Department director Adam London detailed threats and acts of violence against him following his schools mask mandate, Kent County Board of Commissioners members denounced the aggression — but would not unanimously agree to sign a statement saying as much during their Thursday meeting.
As first reported by the Michigan Advance this week, London wrote in an Aug. 22 email to commissioners that a woman twice attempted to run him off the road at 70 mph just hours after he announced a mask mandate for anyone in preschool through sixth grade school buildings in Kent County to protect them against COVID-19.
In his email to commissioners, London discussed concerns over his safety and that of his family’s and described the low morale in the county health department that has faced a barrage of vitriolic criticism and threats of violence over the mask requirement.
“I need help,” London wrote in the email obtained by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. “My team and I are broken. I’m about done. I’ve done my job to the best of my ability. I’ve given just about everything to Kent County, and now I’ve given some more of my safety.”
Following the Advance’s story, national media, including the Washington Post, reported on the threats to London as part of a national trend of what health officials are facing during the pandemic.
During Thursday’s meeting, East Grand Rapids resident Tricia Ophoff of the organization Smart Science Alliance, which advocates for masks in schools, submitted a petition with some 800 signatures calling on commissioners to unanimously issue a statement “condemning all forms of threats and intimidation made against local, state and federal public servants.”
“We would also request you do this soon so as to give Dr. London, and all the other officials and administrators who are being threatened, the peace of mind that county leadership is concerned for their safety,” Ophoff said.
Commissioners’ responses to signing such a document varied along party lines, with all those backing the statement being Democrats and those who did not being Republican.
“For some reason, because I haven’t signed a petition to denounce violence, somehow I hate Dr. London and I don’t care about the community; that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Republican Commissioner Stan Ponstein, who represents the city of Grandville and part of the city of Wyoming, said during the meeting.
Ponstein said that he also has received threats of violence while in office.
“That’s part of public service,” he said.
Commissioner Tom Antor, a Republican who represents Alpine Township, Algoma Township, Sparta Township and Sparta Village, reported he has recently received threats and said he and his wife have gotten “vile phone calls” in recent days “from people in Seattle, Wash.”
Antor did not say whether or not he would sign a statement denouncing threats against public officials. He did say that he wants “to pledge to [London] and to our board that we will do everything we can to find the people who are threatening his life and his family’s lives.”
“We cannot let that go,” Antor said. “I want a subcommittee to look into all those threats.”
Commissioner Phil Skaggs, a Democrat who represents portions of the cities of Grand Rapids and East Grand Rapids, backed Ophoff’s petition.
“This petition from our constituents is pretty simple,” Skaggs said. “The fact that people will refuse to sign it is shocking. They simply are asking us to condemn all forms of threats and intimidation made against local, state and federal public servants. We want to be united? Let’s go ahead and issue a statement that is clear. It doesn’t need to be a statement about mask mandates. … We ought to make a statement that makes it clear we will not stand for our employees being threatened.”
In response to the threats of violence London has received, Democratic Kent County commissioners issued a statement of support for the health director and the county health department on Sept. 15. Skaggs said in a previous interview with the Advance that Republican commissioners were asked to sign their names to the statement; none did so.
“Many Kent County employees have been stretched to the breaking point during the pandemic, but none more so than those in the Health Department,” reads the statement from Commissioners Skaggs, Michelle McCloud, Carol Hennessy, Melissa LaGrand, Dave Bulkowski, Robert Womack, and Stephen Wooden.
I would urge my colleagues to not only join in a universal statement decrying threats of violence against our employees but to also be very clear we will not allow disinformation to permeate our politics.
– Kent County Commissioner Stephen Wooden
Womack, a Democrat representing the city of Grand Rapids, asked commissioners at Thursday’s meeting to draft a statement against violence.
Wooden, a Democrat who represents parts of the city of Grand Rapids and Plainfield Township, urged his colleagues to issue a unanimously supported statement denouncing the threats against public officials.
“There’s the idea if you disagree with an outcome or decision you assume corruption, ineptitude and foul intent,” Wooden said. “We believe that we don’t like the results of the 2020 election, so we believe it was stolen. We don’t like the decision of a health mandate, so we threaten, intimidate and assume the worst of intentions of our health director, believing he is part of some mass conspiracy.”
“This is a troubling trend,” he continued. “… It’s our responsibility not just to decry violence but to also decry the trend of allowing allegations that have no standing to continue. We have to nip disinformation in the bud…I would urge my colleagues to not only join in a universal statement decrying threats of violence against our employees but to also be very clear we will not allow disinformation to permeate our politics.”
Board Chair Mandy Bolter, who issued a statement to the media denouncing violence against officials following the Advance’s story on Monday, did not specifically say whether or not she would back a statement from commissioners.
“I’m going to go out on a limb and say most everyone here agrees violence is not acceptable,” she said at the meeting.
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