Kent Leadership Earns Honor

April 16, 2002
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They get it done.

That's why Kent County leadership is the 2002 Newsmaker of the Year.

County Administrator Daryl Delabbio and Commissioner Katherine Kuhn accepted the annual award presented by the Grand Rapids Business Journal at a Downtown Rotary luncheon attended by more than 300 guests on Thursday.

"This is a great honor, considering the quality of the finalists," said Delabbio. "Kent County has historically gone about its business in a quiet, efficient and effective manner."

But he said that more recently, especially under the leadership of Kent County Board of Commissioners Chairman Steven Heacock, the county board has taken a more active role in the lives of its citizens.

"While we've been historically conservative, the county was not afraid to venture into some risky areas. I think that is what is really setting apart this commission."

Business Journal Editor Carole Valade Copenhaver recognized Kent County for a host of programs and events initiated and completed in 2001 that went a long way toward shaping the lives of citizens living and working in Kent County.

"This one is going to take a while," Valade Copenhaver said when listing Kent's accolades while featuring the individual finalists. "These are all bulleted items that the county has accomplished."

Among those items, Valade Copenhaver said, are:

**Began ways to deal with urban sprawl.

**Began work on a farmland preservation program recognizing the importance of the agriculture industry, one that is often forgotten.

**Initiated a health care program, identifying barriers to health care for minority residents. An important piece of that report showed far less access to physicians in minority communities, and that is underscored by the fact that it's far less costly for a community to furnish regular physical exams than to treat illnesses in advanced stages.

**Initiated prevention services for families at risk, children who may be neglected or abused and those on the verge of alcohol and drug abuse.

**The National Association of Counties named Kent No. 1 in the United States for environmental preferable purchasing procedures.

**Bought and then set aside a record-setting number of acres for parks, including Millennium Park.

**Finished a monstrous building project on time and accident free, using the simple moniker Kent County Courthouse, then broke ground to renovate and expand the Sheriff's Department.

**Without verbal rancor, the county reversed its willingness to participate in the convention business and agreed to back an $86 million bond package, which makes the county the biggest single contributor to the $219.5 million convention center.

**Those bonds were sold in record time — just days — in 2001, while still maintaining a Triple A bond rating and saving county residents thousands of dollars.

While the county has embarked on numerous programs and projects over the past several years, a change in the tone of leadership has allowed those projects to progress more smoothly.

"As little as five years ago, the city thought that partnering with Kent might be a fool's errand," Delabbio said, referring to, among others, the courthouse project. "Now, many such (joint) projects are embraced enthusiastically by the Board of Commissioners."

He said the board's ability to focus on the future of the county and its residents is what sets it apart from previous panels.

"Many of these are long-term projects that won't see an immediate payback, but will help our citizens for years to come."

Kuhn said the individual commissioners are acutely aware of that responsibility and welcome it wholeheartedly.

"Millennium Park will be the one that has the longest impact on this community," she said. "That 1,800 acres of green space will have a huge impact on this county for years to come."

The same probably could be said for many of the decisions made by county leadership in 2001.

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