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Local Government consolidation being discussed by “advisory group”

June 1, 2011

On Monday, MLive.com reported that an “advisory group” has been established to study the proposal to merge the Grand Rapids City government with the Kent County government body.

The proposed merger became public earlier this year at a Kent County Commission meeting where the somewhat clandestine group of local power brokers revealed their intent to make the Grand Rapids area into a larger government entity. The One Kent Coalition claims that this consolidation would “make Kent County more competitive in the global market.”

Those pushing such a claim are: 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).

According to MLive.com there is a 21-member study group that will discuss this proposal at bi-monthly meetings. Those invited to be part of this study group are, in alphabetical order:

Rosalynn Bliss, Grand Rapids 2nd Ward Commissioner

Tom Butcher, general counsel to Grand Valley State University

Bill Cousins, Cascade Township Manager

Harold Hamilton, Grand Rapids City Planning Commissioner

Carol Hennessey, Kent County Commissioner, D-Grand Rapids

Curtis Holt, Wyoming City Manager

Joe Jones, community outreach minister at Brown-Hutcherson Ministries

Christina Keller, Cascade Engineeering

Jerry Kooman, dean of external affairs, MSU College of Human Medicine

Senita Lenear, president, Grand Rapids Board of Education

Jim Lapeer, Cannon Township trustee

Dave Leonard, general counsel, Spectrum Health

Roger Morgan, Kent County Commissioner, R-Rockford

Greg Northrup, president, West Michigan Strategic Alliance

Marge Potter, former chairwoman, Kent County Board of Commissioners

Rick Root, mayor, city of Kentwood

Carlos Sanchez, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,

Jim White, Grand Rapids 3rd Ward Commissioner

Kate Pew Wolters, chairwoman, Steelcase Foundation

Mary Alice Williams, former Grand Rapids City Commissioner

Eric Williams, executive director, equity, community and legislative affairs, GRCC

Yesterday, Grand Rapids Press reporter Jim Harger provided some insight into the outcome of the group’s first meeting. Harger points out that some of the members of this study group are not thrilled with the proposal, such as Wyoming City Manager Curtis Holt who said the proposal, “read like a business plan that does not address local government concerns.” Others expressed concern that One Kent Coalition’s leader Nyal Deems was pushing for a decision by September so that state legislators could introduce legislation that would allow for this issue to be on the ballot in 2012.

What the Press reporter did not include in the story was a simple assessment of who is in this so-called advisory group. Many of the people included are either current or former government officials (11), along with some representatives from the education community (4), the private/for profit sector (5) and one non-profit representative with the religious group Brown-Hutcherson Ministries.

This begs the question as to why there are 5 representatives from the private/for profit sector and only one from the non-profit sector? The business community is significantly represented, but not organized labor or neighborhood-based groups.

Also not acknowledged is the fact that four members of the study group are part of the One Kent Coalition – Tom Butcher (GVSU), Dave Leonard (Spectrum Health), Marge Potter (former Kent Co. Comm.) and Kate Pew Wolters (Steelcase Foundation). Why would they allow anyone who is directly involved with the One Kent Coalition to “study” this issue when they clearly are biased in favor of local government consolidation?

It is also important to remember that the One Kent Coalition is not just interested in making government more efficient, but to weaken the public sector unions as was revealed in a memo from the group in March. That memo read in part:

“….with respect to existing contracts, and collective bargaining agreements, those contract agreements would continue in place until their current 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 that this “advisory group” is getting some attention, but it is more important that these meetings be made open to the public with full transparency. Something as critical as the future of local government cannot simply be left to people with vested interests and local government officials. GRIID has contacted several GR City officials who are part of this advisory group and will report back with information once we receive responses.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. spyralout permalink
    June 1, 2011 7:36 pm

    This “One Kent” thing is starting to stink already. I want to know what these people’s reasoning is behind the proposal. There’s no way it’s as simple as “streamlining government”. That members of the coalition are on the study group is complete BS too. Sounds like a rubber-stamp commission.

  2. June 1, 2011 7:38 pm

    I agree and there are just too many unanswered questions. We are trying to find out when the next meeting is so we can report on it and we have e-mailed some in the “study group” to get their take on all this.

Trackbacks

  1. Lack of Transparency Impedes Local Government Consolidation Study Group « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

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