Council Chamber To Work Together

May 7, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS – Look for a more collaborative effort on legislative issues between the Grand Valley Metro Council and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce this year. The region’s official planning agency and the area’s official business representative both expressed a desire last week to work together on matters that will appear before state lawmakers this session.

“We’ve got to do a better job of working with the chamber. About 95 percent of the time we agree,” said GVMC Chairman Jim Buck, who paused momentarily and added, “We are doing better with the chamber.”

Rusty Merchant, GRACC vice president of government and community affairs, said finding more groups to collaborate with was at the very top of the chamber’s to-do list. Merchant then pointed out that his organization already collaborates with its counterpart in Detroit and the city of Grand Rapids, and wants to work closer with the Metro Council.

Merchant has a seat on the council’s legislative committee.

Buck remarked that a cooperative effort would benefit both organizations for two reasons. First, neither has enough money to compete with political action committees that seem to have a solid grip on the lawmakers’ attention. Second, former city officials who have been elected to a state post soon forget their roots.

“They lose their heritage when they get to Lansing,” said Buck.

Gaines Township Supervisor Don Hilton suggested that the council should find out who is getting to local lawmakers. He added that only a few lawmakers are interested in local issues, and some are seldom available to talk.

“Somebody has gotten into their heads. Who is that group?” asked Hilton.

The meeting also revealed that a number of the chamber’s legislative priorities are issues that the Metro Council could back. Merchant explained that defeating a revised attempt at creating a statewide living wage was No. 1 on the chamber’s hit list, a measure that many council members haven’t supported in the past.

“Living wage is a biggie for us,” said Merchant. “Let’s just do the living wage and get rid of that.”

Merchant said the chamber also wanted the phase out of the Single Business Tax sped up, calls for health care mandates to end, and more funding for transportation, mass transit and the local arts community. He added that the metro area ranked fifth in the state for receiving transit money, even though the region is Michigan’s second largest.

Pat McAvoy, of the Michigan Townships Association, suggested that the Metro Council prioritize no more than five legislative issues and put all of its effort into those.

“You can’t get on everything,” advised McAvoy, “because then you’re always in somebody’s face.”

McAvoy also recommended that when the Metro Council decides to support an issue it should do so early in the process, preferably before it reaches a committee.

Coopersville Mayor Tom O’Malley agreed. “That’s why I think we should get on these issues early,” he said.

GVMC Legislative Committee Chairman Bill Hardiman said the council would quickly list its top five legislative concerns, and also attempt to increase its contact with area lawmakers by scheduling quarterly meetings with them.

“We need to watch a broad number of bills that affect local government,” he said.           

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