News Story

In Ottawa County, vote against DEI puts Latina commissioner in recall jeopardy

Undergirding the recall effort: Opponents see Lucy Ebel as vulnerable

Ottawa County’s first Latina county commissioner, Lucy Ebel, faces a recall vote in May. Among her alleged misdeeds, according to critics: Voting to abolish the county’s Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Ebel’s relatively slim margin of victory in the November 2022 election makes her position more precarious.

Diversity advocates should be “jumping up and down at the election of a Hispanic woman to the County Board,” Ebel told Michigan Capitol Confidential.

Instead, they are seeking to remove Ebel from her seat.

Ebel is facing a special recall election May 7, 2024, in Ottawa County after a successful petition effort, which gathered about 2,600 valid signatures.

Ebel is being targeted for removal by Ottawa Integrity PAC and the Democratic Party through donations to ActBlue. This owes in part to her vote in January 2023 as commissioner to abolish Ottawa County's Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

As The Holland Sentinel wrote in October 2023:

Since taking office, Ebel and other Ottawa Impact-linked commissioners have pushed through a series of controversial decisions, including firing the previous county administrator and former corporation counsel, attempting to demote the county health officer and eliminating the county's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office.

The website of Ottawa Integrity says that Ebel is seen as the most vulnerable of the group of new commissioners elected in 2022.

The Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Ottawa County was established at the end of 2018 by then-County Administrator Al Vanderberg. He described meetings he had with employers in Ottawa County as an impetus to the creation of the department.

In an April 2023 article published by Simply American, Vanderberg said that large employers threatened to relocate elsewhere unless Ottawa County became more welcoming to ethnic minorities, accusing the residents of Ottawa County of prejudicial behavior that was scaring away the best talent.

The Department of DEI would address that perception, Vanderberg said.

In the 2022 election, a group of outsiders named Ottawa Impact, including Ebel, won a 6-5 majority on the board. In January 2023, the new board’s first order of business was to eliminate the DEI department and terminate its director.

Why make that move?

“As I knocked on doors, and I knocked on many doors, the voters spoke loudly,” Ebel told Michigan Advance in January 2023. “I heard stories of people applying for jobs and they told them they couldn’t get hired because they’re white, and that is hiring based on color and that is not equality,” she said. “I saw a lot of tears, and they told me, ‘If you win, we want you to keep your promise,’ and I made a promise to the voters, and now I’m honoring their votes and desires.”

Ebel won in November 2022 by six percentage points. Her opponent in that election, Joe Spaulding, led the signature-gathering effort for Ebel’s recall.

“Why Aren’t We Recalling all Impact Commissioners?” the Ottawa Integrity website asks.

The answer: “The margin for success. Recalls are expensive and extremely time-consuming. Successful recalls are rare and only work in districts where the original vote margin was close enough to indicate the possibility of flipping the seat. Ebel won her seat by just 578 votes.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.