Deciding on a virtual future

April 13, 2009
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What to do with REGIS? That is a question members of the Grand Valley Metro Council will have to answer soon.

The Regional Geographic Information System provides virtual information and data for planners, developers, property owners and municipalities. The Metro Council established REGIS in 1997.

REGIS has grown since then and now has its own board of directors, executive board and an executive director, Dharmesh Jain — who has been credited with greatly expanding the system’s value in his three years at the post.

“I think we have achieved a reputation that is stellar,” said Bob Homan, chairman of the REGIS board and manager of Plainfield Township.

Because of its achievements and current standing, the REGIS Executive Board has asked the Metro Council to give the system more autonomy and grant its board of directors sole authority to approve new members, set dues and fees, recruit and hire, and set the level of compensation and benefits for the director. The REGIS board also wants the power to approve the system’s annual budget, which would still need a final OK from the council.

“The document reflects what we have been doing for a long period of time,” said Homan, referring to a draft memorandum of understanding with the Metro Council that would grant the requests made by REGIS.

“It’s a written form of the standard operating procedure we have right now,” he added.

The issue for the council is who should have financial control and legal responsibility for REGIS. GVMC Executive Director Don Stypula said $30 million has been invested into the system since its inception and it has 22 member units. Nineteen of those units also belong to GVMC and sit at that board’s table.

Two of the council’s largest members, Kent County and the city of Grand Rapids, have been cited as the system’s most frequent users. Council members have had the final say on everything related to REGIS, including spinning it off as an official agency in 2002.

The GVMC board discussed the operational changes as an information-only item at their last meeting.

“I’m glad we’re not voting on this today because I need more information,” said George Meek, Plainfield Township supervisor.

GVMC At-Large Member Tom Fehsenfeld, also president of Crystal Flash, cautioned the council to be careful in making a decision because financial and liability problems can arise for organizations over matters they don’t completely control. He suggested the board get legal advice before deciding.

“We may find that a total split between the two organizations may be better,” said Fehsenfeld.

“The end game may be an independent REGIS,” added Kentwood Mayor Richard Root.

The Metro Council hasn’t set a date to make that decision yet. Stypula said he would review the by-laws to determine whether any changes have to be made to accommodate a transfer of power.

“I can see in the future where that might happen,” said Homan of a complete break for REGIS from the Metro Council. “I don’t want to do that, but it might happen.”

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