GVSU joins GVMC to be more linked

April 11, 2010
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Some may have thought that the Grand Valley Metro Council earned a degree of prestige and political clout when it recently added Grand Valley State University to its roster as its first non-governmental member. Others may have wondered why GVSU approached the council about joining, especially at a time when GVMC is searching for a new identity.

GVSU President Thomas Haas, though, wasn’t one of the latter. He feels it’s a chance for the university to contribute more and also play a larger role in the region.

Haas said he has lived in quite a few communities during his career, but only this region has impressed him with its strong willingness to collaborate. In fact, he told the Business Journal that he felt both Grand Rapids and West Michigan have notions of collaboration firmly implanted in their hearts, and joining the council would only bring the university closer to both.

“When I looked at Grand Valley and what we might be able to contribute as a good neighbor, the Metro Council and its mission, I think, align well with my vision of having the university participate and be an asset for the council,” said Haas.

Haas also said the land-use planning and transportation services the Metro Council offers are elements GVSU can use and contribute to at the same time, largely because of how the Allendale-based college has physically branched out and how its reputation as a place of higher learning has grown. He said the school not only attracts students from other areas, but also brings in faculty members and key support personnel from outside the region.

“The transportation is part of that and that’s part of economic development for the region, and we could add to the conversation with our assets, whether it would be faculty or staff. We just want to be part of the conversation as we support, serve and contribute to the vitality of our neighborhood, so to speak,” he said.

The Metro Council made a special effort to admit GVSU. It amended its by-laws — a rare occurrence — to include membership from institutions of higher education that have a campus within its eight-county region. But, realistically, the change was made exclusively for GVSU at this point. The university has a seat at the big table with representatives of 34 local governments. But unlike its peers on the council, GVSU doesn’t have a vote on matters that come before the board.

Haas said being a non-voting member doesn’t bother him.

“No, it doesn’t, not in my opinion. I think what we wanted to do is be at the table, listen to what is important in the community, and have Grand Valley be responsive to what we can do to help the community be what it needs to be as we create this wonderful place to live and work and learn,” said Haas.

GVMC Executive Director Don Stypula said adding the region’s “premier” higher educational institution to its roster gives the council limitless opportunities to collaborate and share stories and ideas about moving forward.

“With the outreach that they have in Lansing, with the outreach they have in Washington, D.C., on a whole host of issues, I can’t literally calculate the number of positives that are going to come out of this relationship,” said Stypula.

“The history of how the institution has interfaced not only with my membership here but also with all of the economic sectors in this region is going to be very helpful, very eye-opening, I think, for my membership,” he added.

Tom Butcher, an attorney who has been at GVSU for 24 years, will be the university’s representative on the council. He will be sworn in May 6, the day GVSU will officially join GVMC and possibly be added to the council’s Legislative Committee and community cooperation board. Stypula said he didn’t think other higher educational institutions, such as Grand Rapids Community College, would be admitted any time soon.

“Not at this time,” he said. “Maybe two years into the future we can entertain offering a motion to do that.”

Although GVSU is not a government in the usual sense, the university does perform some of the same tasks as cities, townships and counties. GVSU has a public safety department, which includes community policing. It also enforces parking regulations, clears streets and sidewalks of snow and ice, manages energy distribution, and maintains roughly 500 acres of public property.

“We may not be viewed at Grand Valley as a traditional local government, so to speak. But in my view, we have a board that is a public board that governs all the campus properties and they have other authorities, too,” said Haas.

“So we may not be a traditional government agency, per se, but I think what we can bring to the table is some observations, thoughts and support of the region as we continue to, I think with the great deal of optimism that I have, grow into the region that we’re becoming.”

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