City Staying On A Diverse Course

January 22, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Just days after he announced his candidacy for re-election, Mayor George Heartwell gave his fourth State of the City address last Saturday and focused on a familiar theme: sustainability.

Social, environmental and economic sustainability — the triple bottom line, as business owners know it — were the respective themes of the mayor's first, second, and third annual addresses. For the fourth, he returned to his first: the importance of the social aspect.

"If we don't have a city where equity, fairness, even-handed deployment of city services and city resources is the norm, then we don't have a sustainable city," said Heartwell.

"All our grand economic plans, all our work for environmental protection is hollow — and ultimately futile — if we aren't a city where the poorest among us get equal consideration to those with wealth and power."

Although Heartwell called for the city in November to challenge the voter-approved Proposal 2, a statewide ballot measure that eliminated racial and gender preferences in public sector hiring, contract awarding and school admissions, he has since dropped that idea — but not his conviction that the law will not stop him from leading a diverse city.

"We will comply with the law. That means we will eliminate race and gender preferences in hiring and contracting. There will be no goals. There will be no incentives," said the mayor.

"But mark my words. We will be an increasingly diverse work force. And we will have an increasingly diverse supplier and contractor base. Because that's what we value in Grand Rapids," he added.

Toward creating that diverse base, city commissioners will review a new program on Tuesday that will replace a construction policy for public projects the city enacted three years ago. The 2004 program lifted percentages of involvement for minorities and women on city-funded projects from an earlier program and replaced those numbers with discounts on bids for contractors who were freely involving those groups in a project.

Heartwell called the latest offering the Disadvantaged Business Opportunity initiative.

"Notwithstanding the strictures of Prop 2, we will encourage diversity in municipal contracting. I have every expectation that the goal of those majority companies who do business with the city of Grand Rapids will be to promote diversity," he said.

"The best firms are already promoting diversity and the fact that the city can no longer mandate minority participation will make no difference to them. Other firms need to emulate these diversity leaders. Our economy depends on it."

Heartwell invited those contractors to join him at the podium and presented them with the first annual Mayor's Champion of Diversity Award.

But Heartwell emphasized that public education and affordable housing, in addition to business, play major roles in social sustainability. He called for area school administrators to address the disparities in educational opportunities between rich and poor districts, and for local governments and agencies to work together to end homelessness by 2014.

Heartwell acknowledged his speech contained "grand goals" for the city. But he said he was confident those objectives could be met in a city that recently showed the planet its core values and keen commitment to its citizens when former President Gerald R. Ford was laid to rest along the banks of the Grand River

"The eyes of the world were on Grand Rapids for three days earlier this month. And the world saw the best in our community — our commitment, our diversity, our hearts, our unity of spirit and purpose," he said.

"We can continue to honor our president, Gerald R. Ford, when we live according to those values and qualities we exhibited to the world," he added. "We've done it before. We did it earlier this month. We can and will do it again."    

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