Metro Council must establish new purpose

April 11, 2010
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Hindsight may someday show that the most important date in the history of the Grand Valley Metro Council is about a month away. On May 11, council members will gather in Gaines Township to begin their deliberations on what direction the 20-year-old organization should take.

“What’s in, what’s out, what stays, what goes,” said GMVC Executive Director Don Stypula of what will confront the 34 units of government that make up the council at the meeting.

If the result doesn’t persuade members that a new Metro Council will serve a purpose they’re willing to pay for, then the organization’s days may be numbered.

“I think the message is pretty loud and clear: May 11 is an important date,” said Jim Buck, GVMC chairman and Grandville mayor.

Stypula said the half-day session will get underway by examining what the Metro Council has done right since its inception in 1990. Next, members collectively will be asked to redesign the organization as if it didn’t exist. Then, in smaller breakout groups, they will determine the type of services version 2.0 of the council should provide.

Dr. Louis Bender, a retired professor of public administration at Southern Illinois University who now lives in the region, will facilitate the session.

Stypula said Bender will help put together a “wish list” of services that will, in turn, become an action plan for the board to consider. Stypula said open and honest input from everyone is needed. “My concern is this: I want to make sure that everyone has a voice at the meeting,” he said. “If a (board) representative can’t make it, then find someone else to do it.”

Members have said it’s difficult to get funds appropriated by their respective boards to pay the council’s membership fees in return for what they are receiving — even more so during this time of declining revenue and operating deficits, when other funding issues — such as public safety and health departments — are more vital than the council’s dues.

“Our smallest unit, Jamestown (Township), has pulled out. Our largest, Kent County, is thinking about doing that,” said Al Vanderberg, Ottawa County administrator.

Vanderberg said GVMC needs a solid plan and he needs a valid reason for his commission to keep the county as a member. “Without something like that, we’re going to be a rudderless organization. Ottawa County could be next (to leave),” he said.

His words were echoed by Hastings Mayor Robert May. “What happens here really does affect our small community. I need something to take back to my council. You’ve got to sell it to me so I can go back and sell it to them,” said May.

Kent County Controller and Administrator Daryl Delabbio said the four-hour meeting may not be enough time for members to turn the council around. “One morning may not be sufficient for this. I think the organization has to have value for each member,” he said. “If we can’t come up with that, I can’t go back to my commission with a recommendation to continue.”

Kent County has paid its membership fees through the council’s current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, and for the first six months of the next year. Delabbio suggested to county commissioners late last year that they consider leaving the council due to this year’s general fund’s operating deficit that caused about 80 employees to lose their jobs and 40 other positions to be eliminated at the start of the year.

Delabbio stressed that everyone has to attend the meeting and contribute in an open manner. The county’s annual membership fee is about $70,000, with roughly $8,000 going to the council’s transportation division.

Stypula said land-use planning, training planning personnel, grant writing, and helping units collaborate on projects are a few of the services the Metro Council could provide to members.

Stypula recently gave a gathering at the United Growth annual luncheon his take on why the Metro Council finds itself in this particular change-or-be-gone predicament, along with who he felt was to blame. “We failed to communicate with our neighbors and friends on what we do,” he said, “and that’s my fault.”

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