The real dealInclusion always the best approach for Metro Council

February 14, 2010
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The Grand Valley Metro Council has new opportunity for leadership, and it is tied to its beginnings.

Metro Council is a regional authority of 35 county, city and township government members largely focused on issues that impact all of them. Successes of Metro Council include the REGIS system, the planning blueprint adopted by the group several years ago and regional public transportation planning.

Grand Valley State University this month requested membership in Metro Council, citing “the impact of our students and educational complex on the infrastructure relating to transportation, land use, water and sewer services, and the need for sustainable development of our real estate.”

In his letter to the council, GVSU President Thomas Haas also noted, “We want to be aware of and help shape policies which impact our plans and how our plans affect the rule of governments in both Kent and Ottawa counties. GVSU has an impact and interest comparable to existing members of the council.”

GVSU is offering to pay the required Metro Council dues — as a non-voting member of the group. The government representatives around the table acknowledge that the additional funds would be especially helpful as local units of government ponder their continued funding of the regional agency in the face of enormous budget cuts.

The seed for a discussion of inclusion, however, is not tied completely to funding but to the Metro Council’s history. In the late 1980s, four corporations funded a “Four Corners Study” to measure the impact of sprawl and the planned construction of businesses in the southeast quadrant of the county. The study was completed by (then) Foremost Insurance, Steelcase Inc., which was constructing its research and development pyramid, Meijer Inc. and United Development, whose vice president Bruce Brown was one of the leaders of the Indianapolis “uni-government” before moving to Grand Rapids. They each provided the initial leadership for the eventual formation of Metro Council.

Some years later, Jim Brooks, owner of Brooks Beverage in Holland, helped create the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, which had like-minded goals of providing an overview of planning beyond any one governmental unit’s boundaries and preventing an “L.A. on the Lake,” an oft-quoted observation by a national consultant who so identified the lakeshore sprawl already occurring.

The opportunity to provide Metro Council’s government members with big-picture counsel is applauded. GVSU as an educational institution brings a tremendous resource to the council. Of even greater importance is the introduction of the private sector upon which the public sector’s decisions are immediate.

The Business Journal supports the “out-of-the-box” thinking in this discussion. It may assist the individual government members to get back to the business of unified planning. By example, the Business Journal notes that while the blueprint was seen as an exceptional piece of planning and was adopted by Metro Council, not one of its governmental unit members adopted its principles.

Planning in a silo has never been affordable, and that is more obvious in these times. Both outgoing Kent County Board Commissioner Chairman Roger Morgan and Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell have supported the process of beginning to consolidate services and move toward more regional government. Metro Council is positioned to assist in such matters and would do well to provide the leadership.

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