Barred By Bickering

July 28, 2008
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“No, for now.” That was the position the mayors from Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Walker, Wyoming, Grandville and East Grand Rapids took last Thursday at the County Commission meeting on not publicly supporting a renewal of the county’s corrections and detention millage going before voters next week.

And that was very likely their position after the meeting.

But it’s not because the mayors don’t want the millage renewed, as their spokesman, Walker Mayor Rob VerHeulen, said: “This lack of endorsement does not mean we do not see the need for funding of the jail infrastructure or operations. Rather, it means that we believe that the per-diem issue should be resolved before asking the voters of our cities and the county at large to renew the millage.”

VerHeulen added, “If our position could be characterized in a slogan it would be ‘No For Now.’ That is, the per diem should be resolved before the vote is taken.”

While some of the county commissioners were sympathetic to the mayors’ position on the fee, most took issue with it. Commissioner Sandra Parish was quite disturbed that the publicity surrounding the mayors’ request to reduce the per-diem fee has confused voters in her district. She said they are asking her what the daily room-and-board charge has to do with the millage. “I think this has been heavy handed,” Parish said of the mayors’ campaign and its timing. “I don’t appreciate this.”

Commissioner Dean Agee seemed particularly peeved at the suggestion by the mayors and a few of his peers that the county could simply put the renewal on the ballot again next year if it fails next week. He pointed out that GRCC didn’t go back after voters said no to a millage. “I think it’s very cynical to think this will go back to voters if it’s defeated,” he said.

Agee also said the county will lose $16 million worth of revenue if the renewal goes down in flames, which would result in an early release of inmates, and budget cuts to some of the services the county provides to residents of the cities. “We would lose one in eight jobs; that’s 200 employees. (The millage) is not a bargaining chip.”

Commissioner David Morren said the renewal is about public safety, but the mayors made it a political issue with the press conference they held a few weeks ago on Calder Plaza. “I’m disappointed in this whole thing.” Morren also chastised the mayors for negotiating in public, while the county tried to avoid doing that.

The mayors want the $2 million annual charge they pay to have their ordinance offenders held at the jail cut in half, as they see the daily fee as double dipping because their residents pay the corrections millage. Commission Chairman Roger Morgan has offered a 20 percent reduction, but only if the millage gets renewed.

Commissioner Paul Mayhue found the number between 20 and 50 comfortable and managed to get a 35 percent reduction in the per-diem fee on last Thursday’s agenda. “In my mind, it’s a compromise between what the county wants and what the cities want.” But his proposal went down to defeat by a 13-6 vote. Those 13 votes shored up the commission’s support for Morgan.

“We may have to agree to disagree on this issue,” said Commission Vice Chairman Richard Vander Molen.

  • Radio station 97LAV has been announced as a finalist in two categories for the 2008 National Association of Broadcasters Marconi Radio Awards. Established in 1989 and named after inventor and Nobel Prize winner Guglielmo Marconi, the awards recognize radio's outstanding personalities and stations in 21 categories.

This prestigious award program selects five stations or personalities from around the nation in each category as finalists. 97LAV has been named a finalist for the Medium Market Station of the Year. It was selected based on its esteemed tenure in the market and its commitment to the community and various charities.

Tony Gates, afternoon drive host and VP of station development, has been named a finalist for the Medium Market Personality of the Year. Gates is a 23-year veteran of the station and donates countless hours to charities each year. He also has been voted Best Radio Personality by readers of sister publication Grand Rapids Magazine for five years running.

“Tony Gates has been committed to the needs of West Michigan for two decades. Tony is 97LAV,” said Matt Hanlon, president of Citadel Broadcasting’s Midwest Region. “He is a true artist and his canvas is the music, the listeners and the community. Over time, Tony has helped generate millions of dollars for charity while entertaining us. It’s an honor to work with him.”

The finalists will be voted on by members of the NAB Marconi Radio Awards Selection Academy. Winners will be announced Sept. 18 at an awards dinner held during The NAB Radio Show at the Austin Convention Center in Texas.

  • The National Association of Secretaries of State 2008 summer conference wraps up in Grand Rapids today. The conference, put together by Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, brought an estimated 300 visitors to West Michigan. In 2007 Land worked with her NASS colleagues to secure Michigan as the host state for this year’s event.

Guests include secretaries of state from across the country, their families, staff and exhibitors. The event theme is “The Grand Adventure,” which highlights opportunities for visitors to discover — and spend money — at attractions throughout Grand Rapids and the surrounding area.

Conference activities featured individual presenters and panel discussions focusing on such hot-button issues (at least we hope the voters really care) as election reform, voter outreach and innovative methods to enhance state Web sites.

“We are proud to be hosting the NASS 2008 summer conference,” said George Helmstead, executive vice president of sales with the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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