The White House hosted a conference with county commissioners from Michigan on Tuesday.
The purpose was to “promote relationships between the administration and the influential leaders of local Michigan communities,” according to an email from White House spokesperson Tyler Ross.
Those from the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners in attendance included Chairman Gregory DeJong and commissioners Allen Dannenberg, Donald Disselkoen and Michael Haverdink. Allegan County Commissioner Tom Jessup was also at the six-hour conference.
Around 80 commissioners from the state of Michigan were in attendance, representing about 45 counties.
DeJong called the conference an incredible learning opportunity.
“We are getting names, emails and direct phone numbers to all these heads of all these departments,” DeJong said. “When Ottawa County’s constituents have an issue and they don’t get the right answers here, either locally or statewide, we’ve got someone to put them in contact with in D.C. now.”
DeJong said the conference started with a tour of the White House, followed by presentations from representative of the Small Business Association, Department of Transportation, Veterans Affairs Office, Department of State, Department of Congress, Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a Holland native, also made a presentation to the Michigan county commissioners.
Dannenberg said it was important for county commissioners to be in attendance.
“Everything the federal government does is affecting Ottawa County citizens and their taxes and how far that tax money goes,” he said. “If the federal government starts changing some things, the county may have to raise taxes and that’s not acceptable.”
Dannenberg said some of the issues heavily discussed at the conference were public health, veterans affairs and small business issues.
According to the email from Ross, previous administrations have never held a conference dedicated solely for county commissioners.
DeJong said he asked a question about availability of guest workers, as some farmers in Ottawa County have expressed concerns over not being able to harvest their crop because some guest workers are not being allowed into the country to work.
The Great Lakes and making sure there is enough money in the federal budget to protect them was another issue raised by the county commissioners at the conference, DeJong said.
Although commissioners had the chance to raise issues at the conference, DeJong said the impact of meeting officials will extend beyond the trip to the White House.
“The important thing was to meet these folks, build relationships with these folks and to get connected for our constituents,” he said.