HOLLAND — The first ever Democrat on the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners says he wants to improve the representation of City of Holland residents at the county level.
Doug Zylstra unseated the District 3 Republican incumbent Don Disselkoen in the November election, taking 56 percent of the vote (4,648-3,700). Disselkoen held the seat for 14 years. District 3 comprises the City of Holland in Wards 1-3, 6 and Ward 4 Precinct 3.
This was Zylstra's third time running for the county seat. He is tasked with representing the racially diverse city that had Democrat leanings in the Nov. 6 election, especially when compared to the rest of Ottawa County.
"We have a racial diversity in Holland that's not matched anywhere else," Zylstra said. "We have a way of thinking that's diverse from the rest of the county, but I don't think that has to be opposition, I think that should be complimentary."
Zylstra said he is happy to see the county in the early stages of forming a Diversity and Inclusion Department.
"I think there will be big opportunities for that office to be involved here in Holland," he said.
As the political outsider on the board, Zylstra said he felt welcomed to the governing body and received several texts on election night and phone calls the next day from fellow board members and county staff members.
"I hope folks on the other side come to realize I'm a willing partner for change in Ottawa County and for making sure the City of Holland residents and Ottawa County residents find the best answers to solutions," Zylstra said.
Some of the main issues Zylstra wants to address include improving communication between local, county and state government, addressing access to healthcare and affordable housing.
"There are career opportunities here in the City of Holland," Zylstra said. "Young folks would like to live here and we should be working to give them options. We want young people here growing our city and our area."
Equating affordable housing and a sense of entitlement is inaccurate, Zylstra said. Offering more accessible, affordable housing options will not be achieved without some kind of sacrifice being made to make housing an option for young people who want to start their career in Holland, he said.
One of Zylstra's two sons is a freshman at the University of Michigan and will have to make his own living situation when he finishes school. He "should have options," Zylstra said, including the option to move back to Holland if he chooses.
Zylstra served on the Ottawa County Planning Commission for seven years, and the West Michigan Regional Planning Commission for one year, and was the Ottawa County Democratic Party Chair. He hopes to serve on the planning and finance committee when his term begins on the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners.
The county commissioner-elect lived in Holland for about 11 years from the late 1990s to 2002, then again starting in 2010. He owns a vintage clothing store in Chicago that opened in 2002, which he still operates. Since he was elected, Zylstra said he is hiring more people so he can be in Holland five days a week and work two days in Chicago.
Zylstra plans to establish an official social media page where he can communicate with constituents so they can reach out to him with questions, information and if they want him to come to specific events.
"I just want to make sure I am transparent, and working hard for the city of Holland," he said.
— Follow this reporter on Twitter @SentinelKate.