Private Sector Group Wants to Change Local Government
This morning at the Kent County Commission meeting, the One Kent Coalition presented a proposal to transform the area from a collection of communities into a “powerful metropolitan body.”
These were the words of Nyal Deems, the main spokesperson for the One Kent Coalition. Deems said that the group is made up of private sector individuals who want to foster more economic development and make Kent County more competitive in the global market.
Deems told the County Commissioners, “it is time to update our governmental structure and to foster economic development. We have educational institutions, business leaders, philanthropic support, the medical mile and even Chicago is trying to mimic ArtPrize. But this isn’t enough.”
Deems, a former mayor of East Grand Rapids and a practicing lawyer cited several local elected officials who have suggested that local governments consolidate, officials like County Commissioners Roger Morgan and Sandy Parish, as well as Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell. “Corporate leadership is key in helping government leadership act accordingly. If Grand Rapids would merge with EGR, we would move from about 89th to about 25th in the country in terms of city size, which would give us more clout.”
The One Kent Coalition spokesperson then said the group has been working on a draft for proposed legislation that they would like the state legislature to adopt this year, which would allow for a ballot initiative to be put before Kent County residents sometime in 2012.
The responses from the County Commission were mixed, with Roger Morgan first saying that he “is always in favor of enhancing the private sector.” Morgan did say he had concerns about how this is worked out. He thought that consolidation of the core 6 cities is a step in the right direction, but there would need to be an inter-governmental agreement before moving forward.
Commissioner Saalfield raised concerns about drafted legislation and asked who would pay the taxes for the legislation and how will it effect services.
Commissioner Carol Hennessy said she also looked at other communities who have done similar forms of consolidation and cites a study from New York on governmental consolidation that did not work well. Hennessey also expressed concern that the One Kent Coalition folks were using phrases like corporate leadership and entrepreneurship and she wondered if this focus would detract from government delivery of services.
Commissioner Wawee asked where the funds will come from to make this consolidation happen to create a metropolitan government. Deems said they have raised some funds amongst themselves and mentioned that their group had talked to the Governor’s office, which might have money set aside in a pool to help.
This comment from Deems raised other questions and concerns from a few commissioners about the issue of transparency. Commissioner Koorndyk wanted to know who was part of the One Kent Coalition and if Deems could provide them with a list. Deems said that he could do that and this would relieve him from have to list the members at the meeting.
Commissioner Talen also raised the issue of transparency. He asked if there would be complete transparency from here on out, in terms of who is involved with the One Kent Coalition and where the money is coming from that they have raised. Deems said the group is not that formal, doesn’t meet every week and only came up with the drafted proposal near the end of 2010. This is of course did not answer Commissioner Talen’s question about the group’s commitment to transparency.
Grand Rapids Press reporter Jim Harger noted in a story yesterday that, “The West Michigan Policy Forum, a political action committee formed by the Greater Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, will be assigned the task of developing the enabling legislation that will lead to One Kent.” Harger also wrote that local lobbyist Jared Rodriguez who has done lobby work for the GR Chamber of Commerce and now works for the West Michigan Policy Forum will be the person who will lobby the state legislature on pushing this proposal forward.
In a story from this morning, Jim Harger with the GR Press does list who is part of the One Kent Coalition:
• Tom Butcher, Grand Valley State University
* Nyal Deems, former East Grand Rapids mayor
• Betsy DeVos, former state GOP chair
• Dick DeVos. former GOP gubernatorial candidate
• Jeanne Englehart, Greater Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce
• David Frey, Grand Action
• Andy Guy, Wondergem & Associates
• Kurt Kimball, former Grand Rapids City Manager
• David Leonard, Spectrum Health Corp.
• Greg McNeilly, Windquest Corp.
• Marge Potter, former Kent County Commissioner
• Jared Rodriguez, West Michigan Policy Forum
• Milt Rohwer, Frey Foundation
• Peter Secchia, former U.S. ambassador to Italy
• Peter Wege, philanthropist
• Kate Pew Wolters, Steelcase Foundation
• Tim Wondergem, Wondergem & Associates
So, it seems that the same crowd of private business sectors that are part of the Chamber and the West Michigan Policy Forum are behind the One Kent Coalition. This should raise concerns for anyone who doesn’t want to give more power to the private business sector which has made clear that they want to eliminate the Michigan business tax, make Michigan a Right to Work state and make government work in their interests. This doesn’t sound like anything that would enhance democracy, but it does sound like it will benefit private power.