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The Devil is in the Details: Public money, ArtPrize and GRPD budgeting issues

June 15, 2021

This is our latest installment of The Devil is in the Details, which takes a critical look at Grand Rapids politics and policies, based primarily on the public record, such as committee agendas and minutes. In this installment we look at how the City of Grand Rapids is once again promoting ArtPrize and providing subsidies to the annual Art Spectacle. We will also take a look at some budgetary expenses of the GRPD, expenses we rarely hear about.

ArtPrize will be coming back to Grand Rapids this year. In the Fiscal Committee Agenda packet for June 15 (beginning on page 20), there is a resolution to approve City funding for ArtPrize. The Grand Rapids Fiscal Committee is recommending that the City approve a $50,000 sponsorship Fromm Mobil GR and $50,000 of “in kind services.”

In a separate resolution, the Fiscal Committee (page 23) is asking for:

“a $50,000 General Fund sponsorship contribution to ArtPrize in support of their 2021 event, scheduled September 16 – October 3, 2021. Funds would be supplemental to planned sponsorship investment from Mobile GR and the Parking Services fund, and allocated from budgeted event support/reactivation dollars made available through the American Rescue Plan Act.”

The Fiscal Committee claims that using American Rescue Plan Act funding is consistent with giving ArtPrize this additional $50,000, since the event will respond to the, “health and economic impacts of COVID-19.” The Fiscal Committee does not clarify how giving public money to ArtPrize will respond to the health and economic impacts of COVID 19, most likely because they don’t feel like they have to. ArtPrize has been given preferential treatment by the City of Grand Rapids, since it began over a decade ago, even though the so-called economic impact of the art spectacle has primarily benefited a small sector of the business community, as we noted in an article from 2011.

ArtPrize economically benefits the owning class and the so-called creative class, which is ultimately about promoting an enterprise culture. This sentiment was best described by local businessman Sam Cummings (CWD) in 2009. “Our long-term goal is really to import capital – intellectual capital, and ultimately real capital. And this (ArtPrize) is certainly an extraordinary tool.”

ArtPrize has reached an elite status, so much so, that one can not question or challenge who the real beneficiaries are. In fact, the bulk of the agenda packet for the Committee of the Whole for June 15, is devoted ArtPrize.

The other issue we want to address in this addition of The Devil is in the Details, has to do with funding elements for the GRPD. There are two police funding elements that will be decided by the City Commission. First, is the matter of a Professional Services Agreement between Bluestone Psych LLC and the GRPD. According to page 3 in the Fiscal Committee’s Agenda packet, it states: 

The Grand Rapids Police Department requests authorization to enter into a new contract effective January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2021 with Dr. Robert W. Lamson, PhD, Bluestone Psych LLC. Dr. Robert Lamson will provide psychological services for the Grand Rapids Police Department as assigned by, and under the direction of Eric Payne, Chief of Police. The services may include Post-Conditional Offer of Hire Evaluations at rate of $465.00 per evaluation, as well as Fitness-for-Duty Evaluations at a rate of $240.00 per hour. Payments under this contract will not exceed the total amount of $40,000.

Bluestone Pysch LLC works almost exclusively with professions that are part of the Prison Industrial Complex, such as cops, DEA agents, corrections officers, etc. It would be interesting to know more about this business and Dr. Robert Lamson, especially since it appears that he does evaluations for cops in the GRPD. Since the Grand Rapids Police Department claims they are committed to transparency and accountability, will the evaluations that Bluestone Psych LLC is conducting be accessible to the Office of Public Accountability? I would argue that the public also has a right to see these evaluations, which could protect the identity of individual officers, unless those evaluations reveal serious concerns about individual officers in the department. 

The second funding issue with the GRPD, is also reflected in the Fiscal Committee’s Agenda packet, on page 59, which has to do with a request for a budget amendment for the GRPD. This budget amendment is for analysis software, which the GRPD has been using, known as PenLink PLX and would be a total of $6,622.92.

According to the PenLink site, the PLX software is designed to, “Investigate all communication types – collect, analyze, and export large volumes of social media, email, and other internet communications data.” In other words, the GRPD is using the PenLink PLX to monitor the digital information being shared in this community, information that they can used against any form of public dissent. An example of this would be the extensive amount of monitoring that the GRPD has done on Movimiento Cosecha GR. (See the FOIA documents obtained from the GRPD from 2019.) 

The funding for this monitoring software will be coming from property that is seized by the GRPD, also known as asset forfeiture. Assets, like cars, tech equipment, real estate, even cash, can be seized by the cops and then used to fund things like the PenLink PLX software. 

Should the City of Grand Rapids be using public money to subsidize ArtPrize, an event that is run by the wealthiest family in West Michigan? The public has a right to know how their money is being used, along with greater transparency of GRPD funding issues. Without transparency, it is difficult to have accountability, which is exactly why many in the community have been demanding a participatory budgeting process. With a participatory budgeting process, people can not only be informed about how their tax dollars are being spent, they can take an active role in determining how their tax dollars are spent. 

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