In A Governance Jam

September 23, 2008
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Michigan is in the biggest jam we've been in, maybe since the Great Depression," according to Phil Power

The founder and head of The Center for Michigan in Ann Arbor, Power said one ingredient of the jam is the overall economic problems in America, "but part of it in Michigan is aggravated by the breakdown of our political and policy-making systems, as we saw in Lansing last fall when the state very nearly melted down."

Power will be one of three panelists in a wide-ranging discussion on "Governance" at the 2008 West Michigan Regional Policy Conference at

DeVos Place
on Thursday afternoon. (The other panelists are Michael Shea of Government Strategies and Louis Schimmel of the MackinacCenter.)

"It’s our judgment (at The Center for Michigan) that the political and policy systems in the state are not going to reform themselves left to their own devices, and therefore we have to mount a citizen movement to push them to do it," adds Power.

Power is a natural for the governance panel because he's been in government and business and he knows how to communicate. A 1960 U-M grad, he went on to get a master’s in philosophy, politics and economics from OxfordUniversity in 1964. He was a member of Gov. James Blanchard’scabinet and chaired the Michigan Job Training Coordinating Council from 1983-90. Later, Gov. John Engler appointed him to the Executive Committee of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Power was the founder and owner of HomeTown Communications Network Inc., a community publishing company with publications in Southeast Michigan plus Ohio and Kentucky. After almost 40 years at that business, he and his wife, Kathy, sold it in 2005 to Gannett Co. Inc.

Michigan needs "a common ground vision" for the future, and a set of steps to implement that vision — "and that gets squarely to governance," said Powers, "because if you do not have a shared vision about the kind of state you want or where you are trying to go, you have no coherent basis for forming policy, no ability to assign priorities to one thing or another, no way to allocate spending between important things and unimportant things. All of these go back to governance."

There aren't any scripts for any of the conference panelists to follow, or any pre-ordained conclusions, but there will be some suggestions aimed at Lansing when the dust settles on Friday.

"What comes out of these panel discussions is true and real-time," said Jared Rodriguez, vice president of Government Affairs at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, which is putting on the conference along with other chambers from Traverse City to Kalamazoo

  • Local philanthropist Peter Cook took a grilling Wednesday evening, all for the sake of the sustainability of KentCounty parks. The “Something’s Grilling III” event held at MillenniumPark was emceed by former Grand Rapids Police Chief Harry Dolan. The event was a sellout, raising $183,000 for the Kent County Parks Foundation.

“You have pledged so much to this community that you’re going to have to live another 25 years just to meet those pledges,” Carol Van Andel chided the 94-year-old Cook. She said Amway probably has some health and nutrition products that could boost his longevity. 

In tongue-in-cheek fashion, Don Maine noted that Cook has the unique distinction of being a major supporter of police and fireman’s balls.

“First we honored Peter Wege, then Peter Secchia and now Peter Cook – “three of the biggest peters in town,” Maine joked. On a more serious note, Maine said Cook’s gifts to the community have already helped thousands of local students complete degrees and go on to successful careers.

Cook was also teased about his penchant for fast cars and his taste for vodka in his younger years.

Bob Hooker, Cook’s former partner in the Mazda Great Lakes auto dealership, said Grand Rapids probably knows Cook best as the area’s first Volkswagen dealer. In honor of that, a series of old — and often hilarious — Volkswagen commercials were played on a big screen. Hooker recalled that when the dealership decided to add the Mazda brand to its line-up, he and Cook had to travel to Japan to negotiate with Mazda automakers. They encountered a bit of culture shock: After dinner, the Japanese contingent took Cook and Hooker hot tubbing.

“There we were, two Dutch boys from Grand Rapids, in a tub with 12 naked Japanese businessmen,” Hooker said lightheartedly.

Waxing more emotional, Hooker said Cook learned at a very early age the importance of tithing and “giving back”: His Christian faith taught him to give even when he had very little. Hooker went on to talk about Cook’s generosity to the community and the lives he has touched.

Cook also enjoyed some friendly skewering by John Canepa, J.C. Huizenga, Ralph Hauenstein, Birgit Klohs, Steve Heacock, Arend Lubbers, Dick Young and Secchia.

Cook has always attributed his good fortune to “God’s grace” and “the good people” around him.

  • When The Bullshead Tavern, a popular downtown establishment, received the initial call from a set director for the upcoming film “The Steam Experiment,” they were not quite sure what to think.

“We didn’t even know what the movie was going to be at first,” explained KarenScherpenisse, general manager of Bullshead. “But we talked about it and agreed to it. They asked to use our name and that’s really exciting.”

“Business has been incredibly busy with people that heard about the movie,” Scherpenisse said. “People come in and ask, ‘Is this where they’re doing the movie?’”

Besides the immediate increase in tavern traffic, it is hoped that the film will put Bullshead Tavern, as well as other local businesses, on the map of Hollywood hotspots, something that all the employees at Bullshead are ecstatic about. “It will be cool to watch the movie and be like ‘Oh yeah, that’s my place!’” 

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