GVMC doesnt endorse One Kent proposal
Kent County Commissioners Jim Saalfeld and Carol Hennessy questioned a Grand Valley Metro Council resolution last week that calls for the council’s members to cooperate with Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-led Legislature in their efforts to reform and reinvent Michigan, a restructuring procedure that includes local government consolidation.
The portion of the resolution that most intrigued Saalfeld and Hennessy, two of the county’s three representatives on the council’s board, was to support “the adoption of governmental reforms to encourage intergovernmental collaboration and cooperation on a regional scale.”
Saalfeld and Hennessy both wanted to know if the passage would serve as an endorsement of the One Kent Coalition proposal to create a new metropolitan government by consolidating the city of Grand Rapids with Kent County. The resolution would be sent to the area’s state lawmakers and other state officials, and the county commissioners didn’t want anyone in Lansing to think that the county was onboard with One Kent’s proposal before they had learned the details of the plan, which haven’t been revealed at this point.
GVMC Vice Chairman Don Hilton, also Gaines Township supervisor, said the proposal wasn’t part of the discussion regarding the resolution and the document doesn’t endorse it.
Walker Mayor Rob VerHeulen said the resolution shouldn’t be seen as an endorsement for One Kent, or as a criticism of its proposal. Kentwood Mayor Richard Root, who chairs the council’s Legislative Committee, said much the same and added, “I don’t get what One Kent is. Our resolution is to give us a clearer voice in Lansing, and not One Kent. I believe my community wants its identity. I don’t want to sign away the right to be Kentwood just as Don Hilton doesn’t want to sign away the right to be Gaines Township,” said Root.
Algoma Township Supervisor Dennis Hoemke felt the resolution’s underlying factor was to tell Lansing that local officials already know how to collaborate and want their experiences to be part of the process. “We want to be at the table,” he said.
Ottawa County Administrator Al Vanderberg said he didn’t want to blindly sign on to the governor’s agenda. But after 26 years, Vanderberg said he was getting tired of battling the state over revenue sharing, unfunded mandates and other issues that add stress and financial burdens to local governments. He felt the resolution got to the heart of the matter and could get the council into the statewide discussion. “We can either sit on the sidelines or sit at the table,” he said. “I think this is the time for action.”
Grand Rapids Township Supervisor Michael DeVries said the resolution didn’t back the proposal One Kent has said it will take to the state Legislature, but he was concerned that it could be interpreted by some as sanctioning that position. “There is a danger in being too specific. There is a danger in being too general. We are asking to be at the table. But we don’t want the perception that we are endorsing that proposal,” he said.
“We want to be very, very clear that we are not endorsing any single piece of legislation,” said Hilton. “I think we need to make it very clear as to what it is we want,” said Hennessy.
Following a suggestion made by Cascade Township Trustee Cindy Fox, the council unanimously decided to attach a cover letter to the resolution that will make it apparent that GVMC doesn’t support the One Kent proposal.
“We’re going to get this to Lansing before more legislation is proposed,” said Hilton.
GVMC Executive Director Don Stypula said the document would be hand delivered to a select group of lawmakers and state officials.
Stypula said the motivation for the resolution came from Grand Rapids city officials who decided they wanted to be included in the discussion with state officials about the reform process, rather than try to fight the issue every step of the way.
The One Kent Coalition, which is largely a group of private-sector individuals with a few former public officials sprinkled in, has drafted legislation that would merge the county and city governments into a metro government, if passed by the state Legislature. A committee consisting of five members each from One Kent, Kent County and Grand Rapids is being formed to discuss the proposal. At this point in time, that committee would meet twice per month this summer.