Time to lead the change say Metro Council leaders

July 19, 2010
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The results from a survey of the Grand Valley Metro Council’s membership revealed that 73 percent felt the organization was going in the right direction, as far as its core functions of transportation planning, land-use planning, internal communications and legislative advocacy were concerned.

“I’m very pleased with the results of it, as is the Executive Committee,” said GVMC Executive Director Don Stypula last week of the findings from the survey to which 29 of 37 members fully responded.

However, only 55 percent felt the council has successfully carried out its core functions. “We have many other things we need to do. We need to make changes,” he added.

Stypula said members didn’t think any of the core functions should be eliminated. But he did say the results suggested that land-use planning should be put on the “back burner”; that legislative advocacy should be toned down a bit; and that the council’s Growing Communities Conference should become at least a biannual instead of annual event.

What members said they liked most about belonging was the opportunity for regional collaboration and the sharing of some public services. What they liked least was not receiving enough tangible benefits for the membership dues they are paying. “That is clearly understood,” said Stypula.

Now that the survey’s findings are being digested, Stypula said the GVMC board needs to determine which activities the council should pursue in the immediate future to complete its transformation. Metro Council Chairman Jim Buck, also mayor of Grandville, said the group’s Executive Committee would hash that issue out this month and file a report with the board in time for the August meeting.

The survey revealed that most members clearly felt the council should concentrate on collaboration to cut the cost of services for municipalities. Collaboration easily outdistanced economic development and expanding the council’s regional role as members’ top priority. Stypula said the council may have to hire consultants to help with accomplishing a collaboration goal. He said he has already spoken with some foundations about funding for outside assistance and added that the Granholm administration has made some seed money available for that type of work.

“I think it’s time for the Metro Council to be bold,” said Tom Fehsenfeld, an at-large GVMC member and president of Crystal Flash. He said a lot of municipalities are already sharing services;  he felt the most the council could do is bring people together.

Alpine Township Supervisor Alex Arends cautioned that the council shouldn’t get so involved in this issue that it ends up competing with other organizations. He said townships located in Kent County meet on a regular basis and continually discuss opportunities to consolidate services. Arends suggested that the Metro Council should set its sights regarding cooperative efforts beyond its current boundary.

Cannon Township Treasurer James LaPeer said the council should also look at a group it hasn’t had much contact with in the past.

“I see us reaching out to various organizations, but not to businesses,” said LaPeer.

Stypula said he has been in contact with economic development organizations in the region, such as The Right Place Inc. and Lakeshore Advantage, and would continue to do so. He said the council would work to provide a “united image” to the “outside world.”

“We’ll keep talking to the economic development partners, continue talking as a region: one region, one voice,” he said.

But Stypula added that the reports he has received have shown there wasn’t much development going on in the region, as few building permits have been issued in the recent past. He suggested that some adjacent townships should consider combining their planning departments to help streamline the permitting process.

“There is a lot of heavy lifting that has to be done. … Things aren’t going to get better anytime soon,” said Stypula. “Nobody likes change — nobody. But we have to have it. We have to drive it. We have to lead the change.”

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