The County Clerk Giveth And Taketh Away

June 21, 2002
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The report regarding the registration of an assumed name, DeVos Place, published in the Oct. 29 issue of Grand Rapids Business Journal undoubtedly provides a Business 101 lesson for area entrepreneurs. Individuals associated with Kent County and the Convention and Arena Authority are not unlike hundreds of business owners or managers who come face to face with the dreaded words: “an oversight.” While that can have tremendous ramifications, the bigger issue here is whether the process generally taken for granted has any unintentional consequences.

Kentwood resident Kimberly Scott last May bought a Web site domain she named devosplace.com — in the same time frame as the announcement of the new name for the convention center now under construction. Of greater consequence to Kent County, however, is the name on the door of the new facility, and the fact that the county does not own that, either. In October Scott filed that name as her DBA. Last week Kent County Clerk Mary Hollinrake rejected the properly filed assumed name. That process is of consequence to all existing and would-be entrepreneurs in Kent County.

Assuming, at this time, that Scott’s business ethics are not in question, the unusual revocation of her DBA in Kent County begs the question of whether the process can or could be politicized, or whether any scrutiny is ever given this integral process. Scott released a statement last week that read in part, “powerful and wealthy entities have used heavy-handed tactics” to damage her reputation and impede her livelihood. In Scott’s case in particular, one wonders how she could ignore the fact that she was filing and using the name of one of the wealthiest individuals in the country or expect that it would not be challenged in his county of residence and business. Such matters, however, are usually given full hearing in a court of law, rather than at the behest of political leaders certainly aligned with this politically active family. The appeal process should be clearly defined in these instances, lest future grudges be hidden under the guise of what could be a subjective rule of “public confusion.”

Hollinrake was within her privilege, in this case, in rejecting the DBA under the statute clearly stating it is proper if the DBA will deceive or confuse the general public.

“Oversight” almost always equates to monetary loss and a lesson learned. Such are the rules, and the rule makers in this case — the county and convention and arena authority— must live by the playbook.

The Web site domain name Scott selected leaves open several choices beyond the suffix dot-com, and is less of an issue. For all intents and purposes the Internet has been the new frontier of gold diggers, thus leaving a new trail of court decisions defining the rules and propriety.

Consumers living in Kent County should not confuse would-be entrepreneurs with someone hatching a plan for a quick dollar. Establishing an ethical business has its rules, too, of which a fundamental responsibility is to have a complete business plan with expressed purposes filed and liabilities covered.

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