Supremely Bad Decision

October 3, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — It's not as though any of them were bucking to get the nod for Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, as all had conceded that position to John Roberts.

But KentCounty commissioners did go on record recently as disagreeing with one of the top court's most controversial decisions.

The board agreed to send a letter to Lansing lawmakers that supports legislation designed to limit the use of eminent domain in Michigan

Bills and resolutions in both the House and Senate do that by restricting a municipality's ability to apply the law only to public projects and not private developments, as the Supreme Court agreed to do in Kelo v. City of New London, Conn.

"This, in our opinion, tightens up the eminent domain law and doesn't allow the state of Michigan to do what was done in New London," said Commissioner Nadine Klein.

The Supreme Court decision paved the way for New London officials to apply eminent domain to 90 homeowners in the FortTrumball neighborhood in order to make room for a large commercial project. The development includes a hotel, a marina, restaurants, high-end condominiums and office space.

New London officials cited the jobs that would be created from the development and the tax revenue the businesses would add to city coffers as reasons for wanting the residential properties.

County Commissioners James Vaughn and Paul Mayhue, however, felt using a letter as a means of protesting the decision and supporting the legislation wasn't potent enough action for the board to take. They thought passing a resolution would send a stronger message to Lansing that what happened in New London should never happen anywhere in Michigan

"If we're going to stand for something, then let's stand for something. What is the purpose of a letter?" asked Vaughn.

But Commissioner Dan Koorndyk, who chairs the county's Legislative Committee, told board members that Becky Bechler of Public Affairs Associates (PPA) said a letter would carry more weight with state legislators than a resolution would. PPA lobbies for the county in Lansing

"The letter uses the exact same language that Commissioner Mayhue used in his resolution. So I don't think the letter is watered down," said Klein.

In the end, only Vaughn and Mayhue voted against sending the letter to Lansing

"Anything that limits government is good," said Commissioner Dean Agee, "and this letter does that."    

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