OTTAWA COUNTY — After weathering a series of controversies, the Ottawa County Community Mental Health Board of Directors is set to fill a vacancy. The recommended candidate has been an outspoken critic of CMH’s “woke” agenda.
Grand Haven Township’s Stephen Rockman will be considered for the role during the county’s talent and recruitment meeting Tuesday, Sept. 19. He was selected from a field of 14 candidates to serve as a family member of someone who receives CMH services.
Rockman’s son, who has autism, lives in a Kent County group home. He told the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners in January that he and his wife have “dealt with bureaucracy from two different counties” and share frustration over a lack of housing for those with developmental disabilities.
He’s also made statements supporting the elimination of the county’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department — which he characterized as “the department of endless identities” — and the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program.
He said previous boards merely made “rubber stamps for the woke agenda.”
“My selfish interest is that this commission put as much investment into homes, staffing and family support for the disabled in our community as it did with investing in finding systemic racism and implicit bias,” he said during a January meeting. “I confess that I have an implicit bias for our son.”
Rockman is a vocal supporter of Ottawa Impact, a group of far-right fundamentalists disgruntled over school mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic that now controls six seats on the 11-member board of commissioners. He contributed to the group’s education political action committee in 2022.
The CMH interview subcommittee is led by OI-affiliated commissioners Allison Miedema, Gretchen Cosby and Lucy Ebel.
Ottawa Impact officials have never responded to The Sentinel’s requests for comment.
Rockman has given nearly two dozen public comments before the board of commissioners and its various subcommittees — all controlled by Ottawa Impact — supporting controversial decisions, including eliminating the DEI Department, adopting a resolution to become a “constitutional county,” and another that claims to “protect childhood innocence,” although it does not dictate any specific actions to do so.
Rockman has also framed the COVID-19 pandemic as “unnecessary hysteria … at the expense of individual liberty,” claims masks to help mitigate disease spread don’t work and insinuated Health Officer Adeline Hambley is a science denier.
He’s said the left is trying to “sexualize children” and that organizations such as the National Association of County and City Health Officials — to which the county has a membership — is part of the “long march to subvert society with social justice ideology.”
Rockman has also been a critic of the Momentum Center, a local nonprofit that seeks to create a community where all people are “visible and connected,” according to the group’s lead experi-mentor Barbara Lee VanHorssen.
The group receives funding through CMH and believes in “radical inclusivity,” which Rockman has vocally opposed.
“As a taxpayer, I don’t think I should be paying for radical inclusivity,” he said June 20. He called for the funding to CMH and the Momentum Center to be re-evaluated.
The possible appointment was not well received by those affiliated with CMH.
“As a very recent long-term employee of CMH of Ottawa County, I am very concerned and disheartened about the recommended appointment of Mr. Rockman to the CMH Board,” said Vanessa Werle, who worked as a program coordinator with CMH for 15 years before leaving last week.
“He is being appointed for the family member role, yet he has publicly stated he does not support DEI within our county, he is not supportive of the Momentum Center, which provides significant supports to people with mental health struggles, and he discusses support of the Child Innocent Resolution, yet there is not a policy for county workers to follow.”
Werle, a licensed social worker who most recently worked with adults with mental illness, said Rockman’s comments are concerning.
“I question when someone has publicly discussed how people are ‘lowlifes, bums, junkies, losers and other trash’ — and ‘schizohobos’— why we would want him on the Community Mental Health Board? These words are terribly painful for me to hear after spending 31 years providing behavioral mental health services in a community mental health setting,” Werle said.
“These words just further stigmatize people. We have to do better. People with disabilities have fought to be part of our communities and to have someone on a local CMH board who does not support the people CMH serves is atrocious, especially considering all the others who applied and were much more qualified.”
The vacancy was created when the previous president of the CMH Board resigned suddenly in August after a fellow board member framed the county’s system as “broken” and claimed thousands of people needing services go “unheard.”
Robert Brown sent a letter to the 12-member board Aug. 9 tendering his resignation as president and board member, saying: “I, along with the parents who fought the past battles, know what a ‘broken’ system looks like and the system we have today is not it.”
Michigan’s Mental Health Code requires CMH departments to have a board of directors “representative of providers of mental health services, recipients or primary consumers of mental health services, agencies and occupations (with) a working involvement with mental health services, and the general public.”
The majority of the organization’s budget comes from Medicaid funding, with some money from the state’s general fund meant to help people who are uninsured or underinsured. Medicaid dollars are distributed from the federal government to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, then to prepaid inpatient health plans and, finally, to CMH organizations across the state.
Additional money comes from state grants and local dollars from the county.
Brown’s resignation came less than a month after an email in which another board member used an ableist slur surfaced. The email was sent to a magazine reporter.
“Miles, I’m concerned about you,” Jason Monroe wrote to the journalist. “You seem to have fallen victim to the deadly woke mind virus. I’m happy to say, there is a solution. It’s either that, or you’re re*****d. In which case, there is no solution. Please let me know if I can help.”
Rockman defended Monroe during a July meeting, calling the widespread criticism of Monroe’s comments as “political lynching.”
“The outrage … over Monroe’s use of the word re*****d is a contrived controversy by the left against a new CMH board member,” Rockman said. “The left is at war with Ottawa Impact.”