GRAND RAPIDS — There weren’t any balloons, placards, streamers, cheerleaders or marching bands touting their presence at last week’s Kent County Board of Commissioners gathering.
But there likely were more Democrats in the commission’s chambers last Tuesday, the day board members took their oaths of office, than in past years — certainly on the board and quite possibly in the audience.
Carol Hennessy and Brandon Dillon were sworn in as the fourth and fifth Democrats on the 19-member commission last week. Hennessy beat Republican newcomer Eric Schmidt in November to represent the county’s 14th district, a seat vacated by Tom Postmus.
Dillon upset incumbent Republican commissioner and vice chairman Dan Koorndyk in an election that became controversial when city commissioners broke with tradition and officially endorsed Dillon as a commission. That unusual move angered some Republicans, who said endorsements should only be made by elected individuals and not an elected body.
Hennessy and Dillon joined veteran Democrats Paul Mayhue, James Vaughn and Dick Bulkowski on the commission, which is still overwhelmingly dominated by the Republican Party. But adding Hennessy and Dillon to the board gives Democrats control of five county districts that lie within the city of Grand Rapids.
Families and friends of Hennessy, Dillon and the other Democrats were joined at the county’s ceremony by City Commissioners Elias Lumpkin and James Jendrasiak and newly elected State Rep. Robert Dean.
But once the ceremony ended, so did the love fest for the Democrats, which included group photos of smiling Dems for posterity’s sake, as Richard Vander Molen outpolled Mayhue for the vice chairmanship post on the board by a 14-5 vote that went along party lines. Vander Molen, a retired plumber, served as commission chairman in 1996 and now the long-serving Republican chairs the county’s key Finance Committee.
“I’m sure we can all work together,” said Vander Molen after the vote.
“As the late President Ford said, we can all move forward together,” added Mayhue.
County Commission Chairman Roger Morgan was unopposed and was a unanimous choice for the board’s top spot, and for the second consecutive year.
“I appreciate your vote of confidence again this year,” said Morgan.
Sandra Frost Parrish, a Republican and wife of county Treasurer Ken Parrish, also took the oath of office last week. Parrish beat out Democrat Dennis Brown in the 5th District, a seat that was held by Republican Jack Horton, in the November election.