GVMC has begun to search for a direction

June 26, 2010
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Most members of the Grand Valley Metro Council thought the list needed to be whittled down. It currently contains nine major topics, and under those topics are 39 needs, wants and desires that members suggested for consideration by the council. The list is the starting point of an effort to determine what type of organization a new Metro Council should become.

Rockford City Manager Michael Young noted that the major topics members recently identified were the same nine they named four years earlier. He also said the list was dangerously long.

“We may be setting ourselves up for failure if we try to do all of these,” he said.

Young said the council could be approaching a crisis situation, with some of its 34 member communities thinking about leaving the organization. Those communities feel the dues they’re paying aren’t providing benefits and that money could be better spent during a continuing tough economy.

Young also felt that the council was running out of time. “I think we need to have some tangible outcomes in less than the next several years,” he said.

The nine major topics on the list are to continue transportation planning, improve communications, expand its regional role, be more active in economic development, provide relevant planning services, continue to manage the watershed, expand the geographic information system, assist municipalities in sharing services, and maintain its role as a legislative advocate for the region in Lansing and Washington, D.C.

“There is a lot here,” said Kent County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio. “We have to think about where the value lies in the organization.”

GVMC Executive Director Don Stypula agreed that the list needs to be narrowed. “I just want to see what people want us to focus on first. … Then we can get going immediately,” he said.

To accomplish that goal, Stypula said he would act on a suggestion made by Delabbio and ask members to rank their top three issues. Then he will compile a priority list from their responses.

“You’re going to get questions like what can the Metro Council do for you and what keeps you in the Metro Council,” Stypula said to board members. “We didn’t do that at the meeting.”

Tom Fehsenfeld, an at-large member from Grand Rapids, said this informal survey should also ask members what issues they think should be removed from the list. Cascade Township Trustee Cindy Fox said all responses have to be specific to the board.

“I think the equal or bigger question is who we are,” said Ottawa County Administrator Al Vanderberg. He said the answer to that question will be vital to the council’s business plan and to the direction the organization will eventually take. “I’m encouraged that everything is here to do that.”

Metro Council Chairman and Grandville Mayor Jim Buck said pulling all the 39 wants, needs and desires together is a major undertaking. He noted that one is especially demanding, and that is to bring all the local governments, the quasi-public bodies and the school districts under one unofficial but functioning umbrella.

“There are all kinds of challenges out there,” said Buck. “I honestly think the Metro Council is the place to do it, but we only have so many staff.”

The council has 22 employees, including Stypula, in four departments. The council meets again July 12.

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