Mayors bid for consolidated approach drives areas future

February 3, 2010
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Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell delivered his State of the City speech over the weekend and, unlike many other mayors in Michigan, was able to sound upbeat — largely because he and city staff leaders have a plan of action. The ability of the city of Grand Rapids to sustain services with continued projected decreases from all funding sources (like any governmental unit or school district) is built on shared services and consolidations.

First and foremost, the city is assisted by a citizenry that has remained involved in public endeavors, evidenced by the hundreds of citizens who turned out to discuss the city’s rewrite of its Master Plan in the late ’90s, and in writing its Green Grand Rapids Plan the past two years. While the mayor noted the varied groups that have formed as a result around environmental and social likenesses, it is a unique tribute to this city that its residents are so engaged.

The Business Journal might be more suspicious of the grandiose consolidation talk; such plans have been discussed for two decades, and the example of the Indianapolis regional government was the starter. The Business Journal has supported every level of such an endeavor for more than 20 years. The Grand Valley Metropolitan Council was formed as a result of those early discussions. The ups and downs of the Metro Council have served to uncover the issues attendant in such meaningful change, and it has served (at the least) as practice sessions for a uni-government finally accomplishing a level of trust.

The mayor has been meeting with the mayors and staff of Wyoming, Kentwood, Walker and Grandville, and that offers a solid launch pad for the real work to forge ahead. Outgoing Kent County Board Chair Roger Morgan made a point of “regionalism” as “common sense” during his public year-end remarks.

The types of services that may first offer savings through cooperation and consolidation, however, are just baby steps. As the Business Journal noted a decade ago and Mayor Heartwell noted Saturday, “Roger also pointed out countywide consolidation would make us the 23rd largest city in the country. It gives us political clout. It puts us on the radar screen of companies seeking new markets. It makes us eligible for federal grants for transportation, homeland security, education and a dozen other areas where we are simply too small to qualify.”

And this quote is especially worth considering in a new economy world: “(Consolidation) links our interest, our talents and our resources in vibrant new combinations,” Heartwell noted.

In all, each governmental unit is a captured group, one still “captured” by Michigan laws and regulations — and most especially a legislature that is paralyzed in its ability to make change, let alone fast enough. It may be the only wall left in this region’s decades-long work toward regionalism … and that wall must come down.

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