Progressive Dinner

January 30, 2006
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When the price for a seat at the table is $500, one can expect more than a nice meal.

That shouldn’t be a problem on April 19 when the WoodrowWilsonInternationalCenter for Scholars of the Smithsonian Institution gives awards to two of Grand Rapids’ finest citizens and businessmen.

The Woodrow Wilson Awards are given to leaders who have worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life in America and abroad through corporate involvement and public service.

Anyone come to mind yet?

How about Richard DeVos Sr. and Peter Secchia? The two community stalwarts will be honored for corporate citizenship and public service, respectively.

“This is really big for Grand Rapids,” said JohnHelmholdt, of Jones Gavan & Helmholdt, who is helping to raise money for the event, which will be held in the Ambassador Ballroom of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

How big?

Well, previous winners of the public service award include former First Lady BettyFord, General Colin and AlmaPowell, Vice President Dick and LynneCheney, and Senator JohnGlenn. The corporate award has gone to such luminaries as Steve and JeanCase of AOL Time Warner, PhilipCondit of Boeing Corp. and SherryLansing of Paramount Pictures.

“Ambassador Secchia has shown a lifelong commitment to serving his country and using his business acumen and international knowledge to make our nation and the world a better place for future generations,” said JosephGildenhorn, chairman of the WilsonCenter. “From the time spent in the Marine Corps to his service as the United States Ambassador to Italy, Peter Secchia has demonstrated a deep passion and enduring commitment to public service and the betterment of the world community.”

The corporate award, according to the WilsonCenter, goes to business leaders who have shown concern for the common good that goes beyond the bottom line.

“As a businessman, an entrepreneur, philanthropist and community leader, Richard DeVos Sr. exemplifies this award for corporate citizenship,” Gildenhorn said. “His strong work ethic, family values and commitment to faith are evident in every aspect of his business and community work.”

To put this in perspective, only a few cities will host WilsonCenter awards ceremonies this year. Just a couple include Sao Paulo, Brazil, and New York City. Last year, notable locales included Berlin, Germany, Sydney, Australia, and Toronto, Canada

For a deal this big, the city’s convention center might be needed. Maybe that DeVos guy has some pull there.

  • Mayor GeorgeHeartwell said he would consider asking for a tax increase if the level of city services is cut so low that citizens begin to suffer. It’s not something he wants to do, he said, but will if forced into a corner.

“If it appears to me the quality of life in this city is diminished to the point I think it’s going to be, I’m prepared to ask for a tax increase,” he said. The mayor said budget-prompted job reductions in the police and fire departments have him worried, and he doesn’t think the staffing levels there can get much lower.

Heartwell then gave a glimpse of his frustration level and how much he cares about his city’s citizenry.

“I can’t bury your grandmother on a Saturday in our cemeteries, because we don’t have the personnel to do it,” he said, shaking his head. “Sorry, you have to wait until Monday.”

  • A coalition of citizens groups has developed a set of priorities to move public transit forward in the GrandValley metro area and will present its transit report to the public at The Rapid Central Station this morning.

The coalition’s goal is to reduce dependence on automobiles and greatly expand transportation alternatives in the metro area.

The citizen coalition includes community leaders and entire organizations, such as Concerned Citizens for Improved Transit, Disability Advocates of Kent County, Faith in Motion and the Michigan Land Use Institute. More than 220 advocates of public transit participated in a one-day forum last October for the Citizens Transit Summit 2005. The collective result of their efforts is the Citizens Transit Agenda 2006, which is being unveiled today.

In its report, “Getting There Together,” the coalition lays out its five priorities for local transit service, including: complete “metro mobility” for the region, increased weekend bus service, creation of a regional transportation authority, and integration of sidewalks and paths to connect areas and encourage walking, roller blading and biking as alternatives to riding. The coalition also envisions improved coordination between The Rapid and other civic groups that offer transportation services, such as Hope Network and Senior Neighbors.

The coalition’s report outlines strategies for securing federal and state dollars for mass transit and calls for a fully funded transit system. It also suggests new approaches to zoning, development and road design to stimulate transit and pedestrian activity.

  • United they stand. Fourteen West Michigan state legislators have signed a letter blasting Gov. JenniferGranholm’s five-year transportation plan, which they say presents an “unequal distribution of funds in comparison to demographics and need.”

At issue is how much Detroit gets (and West Michigan doesn’t). The state plan proposes to schedule work on 15 percent of this region’s 950 miles of roads, but 26 percent of the Detroit region’s roads.

The lawmakers said they were particularly concerned about the exclusion of several local projects, including expansion of I-196 from the East Beltline through downtown Grand Rapids and a bypass for U.S. 31 around Holland and Grand Haven.

Alas, the Michigan Transportation Commission approved the plan on Thursday. But the local contingent promises to keep up the fight. The Fab 14 are state representatives JerryKooiman, Glenn Steil Jr., WilliamVanRegenmorter, BillHuizenga, TomPearce, DaveHildenbrand, BarbVanderVeen, GeoffHansen and MichaelSak, as well as senators KenSikkema, BillHardiman, WayneKuipers, MichelleMcManus and GeraldVanWoerkom    

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