What Are We Doing Here?

January 23, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The late Rodney Dangerfield probably would have sympathized with some members of the city’s Parking Commission when they recently claimed that they don’t get enough respect from City Hall.

The claim surfaced from a letter written by Parking Commissioner Daniel Barcheski. Barcheski wrote that he didn’t think city leaders saw the board as having a vital role to play.

“The dilemma I referred to earlier is the complete lack of respect we have received from city leadership and the questionable need to have an Auto Parking Commission,” he wrote in his Jan. 12 letter.

To back his assertion, Barcheski wrote that the city completely bypassed the commission when it entered into months-long negotiations with Split Rock Development V LLC for an underground parking ramp in the Monroe North Business District.

“That we weren’t approached absolutely blows my mind,” said Barcheski.

Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema, though, was part of the city’s negotiating team.

“I would like to hear from someone why we were avoided in the process, from someone other than Pam,” said Barcheski.

Barcheski then pointed out that for the first time in recent memory — and perhaps in the history of the commission — the board doesn’t have a member of the City Commission at the table. Barcheski wrote that Mayor George Heartwell sent the board “a clear message that he felt it did not deserve his attention” when Heartwell decided not to take the seat that three-term mayor John Logie held on the panel.

Then Barcheski noted that when the commission approved selling a portion of 50 Monroe Place to the Gilmore Collection for its expansion of The BOB, city commissioners ratified the sale and ignored the board’s stipulation that the Gilmores pay for a new appraisal of the property before it was sold. At the time, the appraisal was three years old.

“What are we doing here?” asked Barcheski of board members at their last meeting.

At Barcheski’s request, Ritsema distributed the letter to board members — and it created a bit of a stir among some of them.

“Maybe it’s time for us to make more noise,” said Jack Hoffman, commission chairman.

The three incidents Barcheski cited in his letter occurred last year, after Logie’s tenure on the commission ended.

“Having the mayor in this role gave credence to this body, and that is what’s lacking,” said Parking Commissioner Lisa Haynes.

Parking Commissioner David Leonard said they need to improve communication with the city commission. Hoffman said he would speak with Heartwell about the board’s feelings; Ritsema said she would do the same with the city manager’s office. Both said they would report the results of their discussions at the February meeting.

The Parking Commission is an advisory group that makes recommendations on matters related to the city-owned parking system, usually before these issues reach City Hall. All nine members are appointed by the City Commission; none is paid for serving.

Barcheski, CEO of Axios Inc., closed his letter by asking what purpose the board serves within the framework of city government if its decisions aren’t upheld or its opinions are not considered.

“The intent of asking these questions is both self-exploratory for me and my involvement here,” he wrote, “and also, hopefully, to spark some dialog among commission members about the future role we will have and whether or not the Parking Commission’s purpose is still relevant.”     

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