Citing ‘deep concern’ over Ottawa County leadership, deputy administrator resigns ⋆
Ottawa County Deputy Administrator Patrick Waterman submitted his letter of resignation on Monday, citing tension with County Administrator John Gibbs and a “deep concern regarding what I have viewed to be a lack of effective leadership and an eroding culture of employee trust and support within the county.”
Waterman, who was hired as deputy county administrator in September 2022, wrote in his letter that he planned to resign on Aug. 4. Beginning in mid-August, Waterman will serve as the deputy city manager for the city of Wyoming in Kent County. He will work under Wyoming City Manager John Shay, the previous Ottawa County administrator who then newly-elected far-right Ottawa County commissioners fired in January and replaced with Gibbs.
“I believe that open communication and effective leadership are the backbone of any successful organization,” Waterman wrote in his resignation letter to Gibbs. “When employees feel heard, supported and guided, they are more likely to remain motivated and committed to achieving the county’s goals. Sadly, from what I have experienced, this is not currently the culture at Ottawa County.
Ottawa County Deputy Administrator Patrick Waterman | Ottawa County photo
“Despite my best efforts to develop a collaborative working relationship with you over the past seven months, I do not feel as though my skills, counsel and experience have been valued or utilized,” Waterman continued. “I had hoped that over time, I would be able to gain your confidence and develop an effective working relationship with you. However, a pattern of concerning administrative decisions has led me to believe that this is not possible.”
Gibbs is a far-right Republican who defeated former U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids) in the August 2022 GOP primary after landing an endorsement from former President Donald Trump and vehemently criticizing Meijer’s vote to impeach Trump over the former president’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. He went on to lose the race for the 3rd Congressional District seat to now-U.S. Rep. Hillary Scholten (D-Grand Rapids) in November’s general election.
Previously employed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Trump administration, Gibbs has repeatedly promoted the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, and has railed against women’s suffrage.
In January, Ottawa County commissioners hired Gibbs during their first meeting of the year; at that same gathering, the newly configured board with a far-right majority eliminated the county’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department.
The far-right Republican commissioners – known as members of a far-right group called Ottawa Impact – ousted GOP incumbents on the board in the August 2022 primary and have since gone on to significantly reshape the county’s political landscape, including passing a resolution that deemed Ottawa County to be a “constitutional county” where the sheriff and prosecutor can choose not to enforce laws “contrary to the rights protected by the Constitution of the United States and the state of Michigan.” That resolution passed shortly after Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed gun safety bills into law this past spring.
The Ottawa Impact commissioners, who in part gained political momentum from espousing anti-masking and anti-vaccine views during the COVID-19 pandemic, hold a six-seat majority on the 11-seat board.
During the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners meeting, Gibbs said he placed Waterman on paid administrative leave beginning Tuesday and said Waterman’s final day with the county will be Aug. 4.
“I value Patrick Waterman’s contributions,” Gibbs told commissioners. “… I wish him the best in his new venture.”
Following Tuesday’s meeting, Gibbs declined to further comment on Waterman’s departure.
In his letter, Waterman described a work environment in which Gibbs uninvited him from “key departmental meetings,” had “limited or no communication with me” and did not adhere to “established county hiring policies.”
Waterman goes on to express “gratitude for the opportunities I have had to serve the citizens of Ottawa County over the past 8 months.
“I am also grateful for the relationship I have formed with the hard-working and dedicated county employees,” he continued. “I wish them all well.”
In a social media post Tuesday, the city of Wyoming announced Shay appointed Waterman as the city’s next deputy manager. The post noted that prior to Waterman serving as deputy county administrator in Grand Haven, he was the city manager in Hudsonville and the community development director in Grand Haven Charter Township. In total, he has worked for local government for more than two decades.
“City Manager Shay is pleased to welcome Patrick Waterman to Wyoming,” the city posted on its Facebook page. “In appointing him to this role, Shay points to Waterman’s strong background in public administration and believes he will be a tremendous asset to the team and community.”
Recall effort filed for member of Ottawa County’s far-right commission
Waterman’s departure from Ottawa County comes as Gibbs faces clashes with and extensive criticism from some elected officials. At the end of June, Ottawa Impact commissioners censured Commissioner Jacob Bonnema, a Republican once aligned with Ottawa Impact who has since cut ties with the group, in part for requesting a human resources investigation into Gibbs following what Bonnema called a “threatening outburst” from the county administrator. A third-party investigation into Bonnema’s request determined the complaint “did not substantiate the claim of harassment.”
In an interview with the Advance, Commissioner Roger Bergman, a Republican who is not aligned with Ottawa Impact, said prior to Tuesday’s meeting that he’s “not sure what [Gibbs] does.
“When they hired him, they said he’s overqualified,” Bergman said. “He’s so qualified that for the first couple of months he didn’t know what to do? I talk to the deputy administrator [Waterman], and he says, ‘He doesn’t talk to me.’”
As Waterman prepares to leave Ottawa County, he wrote in his resignation letter that he’s focused on a “smooth transition” and is “committed to assisting in any way during my notice period.
“I will be sure to communicate the status of any ongoing projects I am coordinating and to executing any transition plan you deem necessary,” he wrote to Gibbs.
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authored by Anna Gustafson
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2023%2F07%2F26%2Fciting-deep-concern-over-ottawa-county-leadership-deputy-administrator-resigns%2F