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One Kent Coalition memo and the future of local politics

March 4, 2011

Last week we reported on the presentation by the One Kent Coalition to the Kent County Commission. The private sector coalition was proposing a new form of government that would consolidate Grand Rapids with other municipal bodies to have more of a metropolitan form of government.

At the presentation last week the One Kent Coalition spokes person did not provide many details and avoided the issue of transparency even when asked who was part of the coalition and where their funds are coming from.

The names of those on the coalition were revealed shortly after the meeting. The list includes: Tom Butcher (GVSU), Nyal Deems (former EGR mayor), Betsy DeVos, Dick DeVos, Jeanne Englehart (GR Chamber), David Frey (Grand Action), Kurt Kimball (former GR City Manager), David Leonard (Spectrum Health Corp.), Greg McNeilly (Windquest Corp.), Marge Potter (former Kent County Comm.), Jared Rodriguez (West Michigan Policy Forum), Milt Rohwer (Frey Foundation) Peter Secchia, Peter Wege, Kate Pew Wolters, Tim Wondergem and Andy Guy (Wondergem & Associates).

When asked about a timeline for when this proposed change of local government might happen the One Kent Coalition spokesperson said that they had hoped that the State Legislature would approve an amendment this fall, which would allow for voters in Kent County to decide on the matter in 2012.

Earlier this week Grand Rapids Press reporter Jim Harger did a follow-up story on the One Kent Coalition and even posted a memo from the group that lays out the metropolitan government proposal.

What is revealing about the memo is that it states on three different occasions that the One Kent Coalition envisions a November 2011 vote on this issue, instead of a whole year later. So why the discrepancy? Are people with the One Kent Coalition not wanting to be very forthcoming with their plans?

In addition to the issue of when voters might weigh in on this matter there is one other point from the memo worth mentioning. In the last paragraph it states, “The metropolitan authority would be except from several existing statutes that are viewed as barriers to streamlining the efficiencies of government or the consolidation of departments, offices and personel. However, with respect to existing contracts, and collective bargaining agreements, those contract agreements would continue in place until their cuurent length of term. The legislation would not alter vested pensions or retirement rights or merit system employment benefits but does not restrict future changes.

It is important to note that this group is thinking about collective bargaining and government employee pensions. Since many of the people on the One Kent Coalition are involved in the West Michigan Policy Forum and that group wants Michigan to be a Right to Work state it is safe to assume that they would not endorse the unionization of employees within this “metropolitan authority.” That they say “but does not restrict future changes” should be seen for what it is, their intention to make the kind of changes that will diminish the rights that union labor has.


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