Council adopts six strategic initiatives

October 24, 2010
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Members of the Grand Valley Metro Council ratified six initiatives recently that they hope will lead the 20-year-old organization in a new direction, satisfy at least a majority of its 36 governmental units and make it a more relevant entity in the region.

“I look at this, as the Executive Committee does, as a living, breathing document,” said Don Stypula, GVMC executive director.

Before approving those initiatives, some members openly wondered how the proposed ideas would be implemented. “Like others have said, we’d better not set these aside to gather dust,” said Don Hilton, supervisor of Gaines Township and GVMC vice chairman.

Ottawa County Administrator Al Vanderberg said the council needs a plan to implement the initiatives, one that has timelines and a system to measure progress. “Otherwise, how do we know what we’ve done and where we are?” he asked.

He suggested a scoreboard system that ranks where an idea stands as it goes through the process. His county uses a color-coded one, but Vanderberg pointed out there are other versions being used by governments, universities and businesses that would work.

“To me, the next step is for Don and his staff to come back to the Executive Committee with a business plan. My recommendation is to get something we can vote on next month,” said Vanderberg.

“You also need to have the resources. You need to have the people and the budget to make things happen,” added Tom Fehsenfeld, president of Crystal Flash and at-large GVMC member.

Kentwood Mayor Richard Root said the council needs to find someone or something that would apply constant pressure to keep the agency moving in its new direction.

“How do we get the toothpaste out of the tube? I don’t know where we should squeeze,” he said.

Root suggested that maybe the council’s staff should change their work emphasis. “Perhaps legislative issues aren’t all that important. Maybe it’s the sustainability of this group,” he said.

Grand Valley State University Counsel Thomas Butcher said university employees have to make sure their work plans are in sync with the school’s goals. But Butcher also indicated that the responsibility for creating a successful organization doesn’t solely lie with its work force. “The real question isn’t ‘What is the work plan of Don and his staff here?’ It’s ‘What is the work plan of the member communities to support this?’” he said.

Hilton said member communities have to put more than one hour a month into the process in order to make a plan work. “We know at 9:30 we’re going to have a mass exodus from this table. An hour a month isn’t enough,” he said of the average length of the council’s monthly board meeting. “I want to put pressure on everyone at this table (to get involved).”

Here are the strategic initiatives the council’s board approved:

  • Develop an ongoing system to track, analyze and assist members to better manage emerging public administration, policy and local governance issues.

  • Administer a region-wide initiative to encourage and assist members in finding cost- and service-sharing agreements for the delivery of public services.

  • Develop and administer a region-wide initiative to train and educate members on a wide range of topics.

  • Strengthen the council’s relationship with economic development organizations in the region.

  • Assist communities in implementing sustainable growth practices.

  • Review the council’s governing structure and operations as an effort to meet members’ needs more effectively.

“I think we all know that we’re going to come out of this looking radically different than we do today,” said Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell. “There is a lot of hard work ahead.”

The push to reorganize and rebrand the council began about a year ago when Kent County questioned whether the service the agency provides was worth the $70,000 in dues the county pays annually to be a member. The county has paid its dues through the first half of the Metro Council’s fiscal year, which is the end of February, and county commissioners haven’t decided yet whether to allocate the remaining dues payment in next year’s budget.

“This group needs to be a catalyst to make things happen,” said Kent County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio to council members.

The Metro Council became one member stronger when Jamestown Township returned, after leaving last year. The township board voted 4-3 in September to rejoin GVMC.

“It’s really good to be back here,” said James Miedema, township supervisor.

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