Birds Of A Feather

November 19, 2002
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Sometimes you’ve got to ruffle a few feathers to get your point across.

Consider Federal Prison Industries to be plucked. Or at least a little bare in spots.

Congressman PeterHoekstra, a longtime FPI opponent, apparently said enough was enough late last month when he discovered that a Canadian firm, Nightingale Corp., had produced a knockoff of Herman Miller’s Aeron chair with plans funneled to it through FPI.

Did we mention that Hoekstra was on the original HM team responsible for creating the chair before he headed off to Washington?

Oh, that chair. Understandably, the Holland Republican had a little more of a personal stake in this issue than some, and he let FPI’s board of directors know that in no uncertain terms.

The result? Hoekstra is hailing what he calls “the first steps toward reform of FPI’s business practices.”

In a Nov. 8 letter to Hoekstra, FPI’s five-member board listed eight points on which it will strive to achieve a mutually agreeable solution. The FPI board agreed to terminate some of FPI’s “pass-through” manufacturing activities, but not the one that led to the creation of such FPI products as imitation Aeron chairs that were not made by prison laborers but by a Canadian company to sell to the U.S. government.

“I applaud the new board’s willingness to move forward on these reforms, which stands in stark contrast to the previous FPI board,” said Hoekstra. “While the announcement the board made is significant, there is still significant work to do to achieve comprehensive reform. As we move forward, I will continue to press the board to stand by the decisions it laid out (Nov. 8) in its letter and to work with me to achieve complete reform that gives all workers and businesses a fair chance to compete for government contracts.”

On the positive side, Hoekstra welcomed the board’s position of making all future decisions on products and services at open, public board meetings. He said the “backroom, closed-door decision making” done by previous boards was offensive.

But while progress is being made, don’t think Hoekstra is being lulled into passivity.

Intent on pursuing reform, he has asked House Small Business Committee Chairman Don Manzullo, R-Ill., to hold a hearing on FPI’s impact on small business. Hoekstra said he will testify at the hearing and expects to be impaneled so he can question FPI officials and other who testify.

That show is scheduled for Thursday in Washington.

  • Politicians sure seem to be able to keep themselves busy these days.

If they’re not running for office, they’re helping others run for office.

The latest is Betsy DeVos, who is running for Michigan Republican state party chairperson. She’s being backed by Secretary of State-Elect Terri Lynn Land, Attorney General-Elect Mike Cox and Republican National Committeeman Chuck Yob, who issued a joint statement regarding DeVos’ sterling qualifications for the job.

“We need a grass-roots based state party. Our next leader must be dedicated to a bottom-up approach when it comes to preparing for future elections. Fundraising will be an equally important task for the state party chair. Betsy has impeccable fundraising credentials.”

Interestingly, the announcement goes on to state that “Michigan’s top two Republican elected officials were both successful with a blend of grass-roots-style campaigns and a broad donor base …”

Presumably, that would be Cox and Land, who were winners.

Where does that leave Dick Posthumus? He must be the Republicans’ top not-elected official.

  • Sometimes even being the spouse of a politician can have its pitfalls.

Take the case of Dan Hibma, husband of Land and former supervisor in Byron Township.

He’s caught in the middle of the purchase of development rights (PDR) scuffle going on at the Kent County Commission (see story, page 3).

A Web story posted Thursday by the Michigan Land Use Institute calls the Home and Building Association of Greater Grand Rapids a “formidable opponent” but claims divisiveness among the membership over the issue. MLUI says the 15-member board is pushing the opposition without having polled the 1,300 HBAGGR members.

“The organization’s attempt to halt Kent County’s farmland protection plan, according to association members, is led by a few dominant builders, among them Dan Hibma, a wealthy developer, major contributor to Michigan’s Republican Party, and the husband of Terry Lynn Land, who was just elected Michigan’s Secretary of State.”

The institute also took to task Kent commissioners Dean Agee and Mike Sak, who they say received PAC money from the homebuilders and are among the county commissioners delaying or against the project.

The saga continues tomorrow when commissioners are scheduled to meet.

  • How appropriate that a former American Seating Co. manufacturing building at 901 Broadway Ave. NW was the locale for Pamella DeVos’ “New York style” runway fashion show. DeVos, president of Pamella Roland Designs, premiered her resort and spring fashions on Wednesday as part of a benefit for the Grand Rapids Symphony’s educational outreach program and the Grand Rapids Griffins Youth Foundation. The Pamela Rolland collection, designed in collaboration with Ron Leal, is being sold locally via Leigh’s and nationwide via Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and specialty stores.

Pioneer Inc. owner Tom Beckering was all smiles as the well-dressed attendees — including Pam’s proud spouse, Dan DeVos — mingled in the building that he is redeveloping into multi-level loft apartments. Word is that a restaurant and amphitheater are planned for the space (that’s all we could glean from the leasing agents before some lawyers walked up.) Project manager Chris Beckering said they plan to market the NY-style lofts to area college students. (What’s $1,400 divided four ways?) 

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