Inside Track and Government

Inside Track: Commission chair had trouble finding a seat

Dan Koorndyk now heads the Kent County Board of Commissioners, but only through a twist of fate.

February 22, 2013
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Commission chair had trouble finding a seat
Dan Koorndyk has made his living in the insurance field for three decades, most of those as a State Farm agent. Photo by Johnny Quirin
It may sound strange because of the time lag, but, as fate would have it, it’s true: If Kent County Commissioner Jim Talen had run for re-election in 2000, Kent County Commission Chairman Dan Koorndyk would not have been elected to the board’s top post last month.

Koorndyk ran against Talen in a Grand Rapids district race for a Kent County commissioner post in 1996 and again in 1998, losing both times. But Talen, a Democrat, didn’t throw his hat into the ring in 2000, so Koorndyk, a Republican, did, and won.

“The biggest break in my political career, to be honest with you, was Jim Talen not running, because if he would have run — and I’ve told him this before — I wouldn’t have run again because I couldn’t beat him, and I would have been done with politics. It always bothers him when I tell him that,” said Koorndyk, laughing.

Running for county commissioner was his first venture into politics, even though he was active in the county’s Republican Party before deciding to run. He remained active even when he lost. “To be honest with you, I’ve worked hard for the party for 20 years,” he said.

Koorndyk said it felt great when the board elected him chairman Jan. 3. It wasn’t surprising commissioners chose him because he previously served in leadership positions at the county, including commission vice chairman when Roger Morgan chaired the board in 2006. That put him on track to become chairman when Morgan stepped down.

 

DAN KOORNDYK
Organization:
Kent County Board of Commissioners
Position: Chairman
Age: 54
Birthplace: Grand Rapids
Residence: Grand Rapids
Family: Wife, Mary; daughters Lindsey and Meghan
Business/Community Involvement: Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, Grand Rapids Jaycees Foundation, Michigan Oaks Neighborhood Association and Maryland Estates Neighborhood Watch.
Biggest Career Break: Jim Talen not running for re-election in 2000.

 

But Koorndyk lost his bid for re-election in 2008, a year when Democrats ruled at the polls and grabbed a near-record-setting eight of the board’s 19 seats. Two years later, though, he won his seat back by beating Rick Tormala. Following that, then commission chairwoman Sandi Frost Steensma named Koorndyk chairman of the Legislative Committee, and he found himself back in a leadership role.

Koorndyk said his top goal as chairman is to maintain the county’s triple-A bond rating. He will make his first trip to New York with his financial team in April to meet with two ratings agencies. “My number one goal when we go there is that we make a great presentation and maintain that bond rating, which helps everybody in the county,” he said.

Also high on his priority list is to balance the 2014 general fund budget. That means making sure expenditures match revenues without digging into the account’s reserve fund. It could be quite a balancing act, not knowing what Lansing has in mind for revenue sharing next year and what the county’s final tally will be from December’s Personal Property Tax legislation.

“Then there are a few other local issues that we’re dealing with, like the zoo. I’d like to get that settled this year. I think we’re getting closer to bringing the two groups together and having just one group maintain the zoo,” he said, giving credit to Bruce Neckers, an attorney with Rhoades McKee, for his work on the effort.

Koorndyk has made his living in the insurance field for three decades, most of those years as a State Farm agent. His father was with the same company, and he worked with his dad when he was in high school and learned the business from the inside.

“When I got out of college, I worked for a life insurance company and I thought I’d rather do everything. Then I had an opportunity to work for State Farm and started out in Cascade as an agent for my first three years. I was always more comfortable in the city so I moved back to the city in 1985 with my insurance business,” he said. “My business now is about a mile from where I grew up.”

Dan married Mary, who is a teacher’s aide at St. Thomas the Apostle School, 26 years ago. They live on the city’s northeast side and have two daughters, Lindsey and Meghan. Meghan is a junior at Michigan State University, and Lindsey graduated from MSU. Although Koorndyk’s degree is from University of Michigan and he has season tickets to U-M football games, he said he still loves his MSU daughters.

“Actually, I almost went to MSU, too, and decided at the last minute to go to Michigan. I don’t have any animosity for Michigan State at all. I pull for them — except when they’re playing Michigan,” he said.

Lindsey is a legislative aide to State Rep. Rob VerHeulen, former Walker mayor. As a student, she served as an intern for former Kentwood Mayor Bill Hardiman when he was in Lansing and worked last year for State Rep. Ken Yonker.

“She has been in Lansing for five years in the Senate and the House. She really enjoys that,” he said. Lindsey is following in her dad’s footsteps. She ran for a Grand Rapids Township trustee post last year but lost in the primary by 60 votes.

Dan and Mary met through a friend in their post-college years and dated for four years before getting married. “I was born and raised in southeast Grand Rapids and went to Ottawa Hills (High School), and my wife was born and raised in Plainfield Township and went to Northview,” he said. “So we ended up compromising: I wanted to live on the southeast side and she wanted to live up in Plainfield. We ended up in northeast Grand Rapids.”

Koorndyk is very active in the community. He has been president of the Michigan Oaks Neighborhood Association for a dozen years and is sharing that post this year as co-president. He co-founded the Maryland Estate Neighborhood Watch in 1996. He currently serves on the board for the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, having held that position since 2003, and is a trustee for the Grand Rapids Jaycees Foundation.

Koorndyk also has been a past president of the Jaycees. He has served that group for 15 years and is a lifetime member who chaired the 1990 Greater Grand Rapids Open, a Seniors PGA golf tournament first held at the Elks Country Club on Leonard Street NW.

“That was the predecessor to the First of America Classic, which was the predecessor to the Foremost Insurance Classic. I worked those golf tournaments from 1983 to 1993 at the Elks. When it went to Egypt Valley, I worked at it for about another seven years,” he said.

“I enjoy golf. It’s a release — a way to get away from stress and stuff,” he said. “I’m not a great golfer, but I enjoy being outside and walking around.”

He also coaches basketball and has done so at St. Thomas since 1997. “I’ve mostly coached girls; last year I switched to boys. But girls listen much better than boys do,” he said with a laugh.

As for the future, Koorndyk said he is looking forward to seeing the final report on the county’s Collective Impact Initiative study. “I think we’re going to have some results and move that forward to help us try to deal with some of the issues we have with children. We’ll see what happens there,” he said.

“Also, the community collaboration work group will be ending its meeting in the next month or so and they’ll have a report out on that. Hopefully, there will be some recommendations there that we can move forward to help government become more efficient and effective at every level.

“As far as insurance goes, on April 1 it will be 31 years for me as a State Farm agent. I’ve been doing it for a while. I understand it and I very much enjoy it. That’s why I like doing politics on a part-time basis: It allows me to have my full-time job, as well.”

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