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The Devil is in the Details 1/26/2021 – AmplifyGR, more public money for a global corporation and the latest effort by the City of Grand Rapids to control the GRPD narrative

January 25, 2021

Two weeks ago, we began out first installment of this regular posting, which takes a critical look at Grand Rapids politics and policies, based primarily on the public record, such as committee agendas and minutes.

We continue our look at Grand Rapids politics today, with some observations about the Grand Rapids City Commission’s Committee of the Whole and general City Commission meeting agenda packets for January 26th, which can be found at this link. 

Two brief observations having to do with tax breaks for business, at the expense of the public and then a more detailed look at a recent “survey” done in Grand Rapids, having to do with the GRPD.

Back in early December, we reported on the DeVas-created AmplifyGR group, in conjunction with their partner, Rockford Construction, to seek tax breaks for a new business project that will be located at 1601 Madison SE, in Grand Rapids. The business that would occupy 1601 Madison SE was not revealed in early December, but the Director of AmplifyGR was quoted in MLive, saying, ““Were hoping that by the end of the year we can be a little bit more public with that. So hopefully its a matter of weeks and not months. 

It has been nearly two months since the AmplifyGR Director made this comment and still there is no mention of the name of the business that will benefit from $2.2 million in tax breaks from this development project for a private company. City officials will likely vote on this matter, despite the fact that AmplifyGR and Rockford Construction cannot be transparent which company will be the beneficiaries of public funding.

Also on the docket today is a proposal to provide both state funds and 12 years of tax breaks to the global self-care company Perrigo, which wants to build a facility at 400 Monroe NW in Grand Rapids. My question is, why does the State and the City need to provide massive tax breaks to a global corporation that had over a billion dollars in sales in their last quarterly report?

The State of Michigan has already committed $2 million to this relocation, and add to that 12 years of tax breaks from the City of Grand Rapids, and we are talking about a good sum of money, money that could benefit families that are struggling financially, with housing, health care and food insecurity. 

Lastly, the City of Grand Rapids will likely vote on a 1 year pilot project with the private group known as Governance Sciences Group, Inc to provide FlashVote services for an estimate amount of $14,900. Essentially, what FlashVote is, is an online survey system, designed to solicit public input on issue.

The City of Grand Rapids is particularly interested in getting feedback on the GRPD, and in their Agenda Packet (beginning on page 95), it states it will also support the Police Department strategic plan.

As someone who has been involved in Defund the GRPD, I find this so-called survey suspect. First, on page 99 of the Agenda Packet, the City of Grand Rapids already did a test run in September, soliciting input on the GRPD. It says that 335 people were invited to participate, yet there is no methodology on how people were invited, nor the demographics of people invited.

Second, there are 5 questions for people in this survey, questions that are definitely crafted in such a way that avoids any serious critique of the GRPD, such as:

  • Please rate how safe you feel in your neighborhood?
  • Which best describes the police presence in your neighborhood?
  • Which best describes you interactions with GRPD officers over the past 12 months?
  • Which of the following are true for you, if any?
  • Any other comments or suggestions to improve public safety and community trust in the Grand Rapids Police Department?

Question number 4 does provide a vague option to allocate resources outside of the GRPD, but it fundamentally avoids the issue of defunding and the reasons behind that campaign. On pages 102 & 103 of the Agenda Packet, there are written responses to Question 5, which are instructive at some level, but misleading since we do not know the demographics of those surveyed, nor how they were chosen. This speaks to a third point about why this survey is highly problematic and fundamentally demonstrates that the city wants to control the narrative about the GRPD, just like they did with the online survey in August, and in general, since the May 30th rebellion and the calls for defunding the GRPD.

We all know that Black and Brown residents have a much different lived experience that White people do when it comes to the police. There is also a socio-economic difference with how the cops deal with members of the Capitalist Class and how they deal with the working class poor. The GRPD has a heavier presence in poor neighborhoods that are disproportionately represented by Blacks and latinx communities, which is by design.

Fourth, as we wrote in early July, despite the City receiving thousands of letters from people calling for a reduction of funding for the GRPD and some City Commission support, the City Attorney and City Manager did an end run saying that the City Commission could not vote on reducing the funding for the GRPD. All of the groups involved in that effort were told that by November of 2020, the City would make a decision on this matter, but what happened is that the issue of defunding the GRPD was completely taken off the table, which leads this writer to conclude that City officials never intended to deal with defunding, not at least until they had more control over the narrative.

Lastly, instead of paying private companies to solicit controlled input, why doesn’t the City of Grand Rapids begin the process of using participatory budgeting, which would allow for all residents in Grand Rapids to have a say in how public tax money is used in this city. This would be a more honest and more intentional way of getting public input, plus it would mean that the City of Grand Rapids would have to give up the power to control how public money gets spent.

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