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Lack of Transparency Impedes Local Government Consolidation Study Group

June 15, 2011

Yesterday, the second meeting of the committee to study the One Kent Coalition local government consolidation proposal met in downtown Grand Rapids.

This local group of appointed members was given the task of coming up with recommendations in response to the One Kent Coalition’s local government consolidation proposal……..or maybe it wasn’t.

Much of the meeting was spent by committee members discussing what their actual task was and whether or not the September deadline was an adequate amount of time for them to honestly assess the prospects of local government consolidation.

Steve Crandall, a corporate human resources specialist was the facilitator for yesterday’s meeting. When Crandall stated that the group was tasked to look at the feasibility of the One Kent Coalition proposal, County Commissioner Roger Moran said the charge should be to question the proposal. Cascade Township Manager Bill Cousins agreed with Moran and Harold Hamilton (GR City Planning Comm) said he was “freaked out,” since he thinks that if the proposal passed in would leave Grand Rapids with no functioning central government. He supports consolidating services, but not government.

David Leonard, general counsel for Spectrum Health and a member of the One Kent Coalition, said, “shouldn’t it be up to the voters to decide whether or not this is a good proposal?”

Moran responded and said that the One Kent Coalition met for a year in secrecy with no elected officials so he does not trust what their intent is. Former Grand Rapids City Commissioner Mary Alice Williams said she agreed to come to the table to decide whether this was a good idea, but after the first meeting the mandate is how do we move and implement this proposal. “It seems that from the One Kent group that this study group was a necessary evil, a speed bump in the process of it moving forward.” She said she doesn’t object government consolidation in principle, but that more information needs to be presented.

Wyoming City manager Curtis Holt said the language of the legislation that the One Kent Coalition put forth has been decided so it seemed that the task of this group was somewhat ambivalent He stated that the One Kent folks think government consolidation will be good for economic growth, but they have offered no serious data to support such a claim.

Again, Commissioner Moran spoke up and stated that he thinks that is doesn’t matter that this group says, “since the legislation is so far down the line it has already been decided.

Harold Hamilton stated that he thinks the process needs to slow down. “The September deadline given to us by Nyal Deems at the last meeting is too quick.” Mary Alice Williams asked what do the One Kent Coalition members think about the issues people are raising, if they are going to go ahead with their endeavor no matter what this group’s decides even if they disagree with the proposal.

One Kent Coalition member Marge Potter avoided the question by talking about how Grand Rapids and Detroit are very similar. She also stated that she had submitted some “research for the group” on what other counties like Kent have done around the issue of government consolidation. Crandall agreed with Potter by saying this process is really about looking at “best practices,” but that did not address the question as to what the intent on the One Kent Coalition was and what they have been doing for the past year.

David Leonard said that the One Kent Coalition has submitted nothing more than a legislative proposal and that there is “no conspiracy.” Other members of the One Kent Coalition group present said that they regard “this group’s work as very important in what will be introduced into legislation.” Again, this sentiment did not address the question of what the group has been doing for the past year, where their funding has come from and whether or not they have hired a lobbyist to push the legislation in Lansing.

Tom Butcher, general counsel for GVSU and a member of the One Kent Coalition spoke in very lofty terms about the importance of thinking about what local government might look like in 25 years from now. He mentioned the economic benefits and the decision-making powers that could come with government consolidation and challenged the group to think about social justice in this community, although he never defined what social justice meant.

Former State Representative Jerry Kooiman says that the next meeting should include information on the history/background of the One Kent Coalition, plus Mayor Heartwell and County Commissioner Sandy Frost Parish should also be there to address their thoughts and concerns on the proposal.

Wyoming City Manager Curtis Holt said, “this group needs to be assured by the One Kent Coalition that the conclusions they come up with need to be respected and that no legislation will move forward before the group comes up with some recommendations.”

There was no commitment to this request from Holt, but there was consensus that the One Kent Coalition would make a presentation to the group at the next meeting. The next meeting is scheduled for the downtown campus of GVSU on Wednesday, June 29 at 4:00PM in room 202 E.  

After the meeting this writer spoke with Grand Rapids City Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss who stated that the One Kent Coalition has retained Rusty Merchant to be a lobbyist for their state legislation proposal on local government consolidation, despite claims by some of the One Kent Coalition members that they had not hired anyone at this point. Merchant has a history of lobbying for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and other business groups at the state level.

After sitting through two hours of discussion it seemed very apparent to this writer that the advisory group was not in agreement on the purpose of this group’s task and there was significant concerns, even mistrust, over what the real intent of the One Kent Coalition was. Whenever these concerns were raised members of the One Kent Coalition present avoided any direct response and failed to provide clear transparency on what the group has done up to this point. The meeting on the 29th might provide some clarification for these concerns and we plan to be there and report on what is presented and discussed.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Nito permalink
    June 15, 2011 9:44 pm

    Where can we get more information? Are people organizing against this so-called Coalition? Are we heading in the same direction Benton Harbor is going? Thanks for the answers.
    Nito.

  2. June 15, 2011 9:56 pm

    GRIID is attempting to get copies of all documents pertaining to the One Kent Coalition group and their legislative proposal. We are not aware of any organized opposition but these meetings are public so anyone can come to the next one on the 29th.

  3. June 15, 2011 11:28 pm

    The original proposal for 21 members to represent all six municipalities, and county, and that 21 could be adjusted up or DOWN, wasnt encouraging for a lot of people. Obviously the local ‘community leaders’ and Gov. Snyder have reached a concesus as to how theyd prefer to restructure/reform Mi local governments, that doesnt need to be put to popular scruitiny by means of a constitutional convention, or a popularly presented proposal for micro/macro subunit newmodeling, but by means of arbitrary corperate dictates(E.F.M.s), and local leadership iniatives…to bad popular reform aint got millions.

    http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/06/committee_studying_proposed_gr.html

Trackbacks

  1. Draft of One Kent Coalition Legislative Proposal « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  2. Local government consolidation study group still at odds with One Kent Coalition proposal « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

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