Despite criticisms committee taking shape

November 6, 2011
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Despite objections being raised about playing partisan politics and favoring one portion of the county over another, members of the Kent County consolidation subcommittee agreed to offer 10 individuals seats on a 12-member committee that will look into creating efficiencies in government.

The group is being formed in light of the proposal from One Kent Coalition to merge the county with the city of Grand Rapids into a new metropolitan government.

Both objections centered on the three county commissioners named to the committee: Dan Koorndyk, Jim Saalfeld and Michael Wawee. All three are Republicans, and Commissioner Carol Hennessy, one of four Democrats on the county board and the only one on the subcommittee, said she felt a Democrat should have been assigned one of the county’s seats.

“I don’t feel there is a lot of partisanship going on in this,” she said. But Koorndyk, who chairs the subcommittee and who worked with Saalfeld to fill many of the committee’s posts, said he waited for a commissioner to volunteer to take a seat, and Wawee was the only one who did.

Commissioner Harold Mast, a Republican whose district is in south Kent County, noted that the trio of commissioners all represented the northern portion of the county.

“I understand what you’re saying, but you don’t have anyone representing the south side of the county,” said Mast. “We could make a better effort at being partisan-free, even though we’re not being partisan.”

“If we were trying to achieve geographical diversity, we’d have a committee of 24, not 12. We went above partisan politics and above geography,” said Saalfeld, the subcommittee’s vice chairman. “If you’re going to look at this through geography glasses, we’re never going to fill this committee. I looked at filling this list with subject-matter experts.”

Commissioner Harold Voorhees, a former mayor of Wyoming who represents that city located on the southwest side of Kent County on the commission, said, “I’m comfortable with this.”

Grand Rapids City Commissioners Rosalynn Bliss and James White have been named to represent the city on the committee. Grand Rapids Township Supervisor Michael DeVries has been asked to represent the county’s townships, and Walker City Manager Cathy Vander Meulen has been asked to do the same for the cities.

Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce President Rick Baker, Grand Valley State University economics professor Paul Isely, and attorney James Brown of Mika, Meyers, Beckett & Jones also have been asked to serve on the committee. Saalfeld told the Business Journal that all have been contacted.

The subcommittee has two committee posts left to fill. One is for an expert in business development, which Koorndyk and Saalfeld will try to fill. The other is for a leader from the nonprofit community. Hennessy and Commissioner Shana Shroll will look to fill that seat.

“In terms of timing, I’m hoping we will have the other two filled by our next meeting,” said Saalfeld.

The subcommittee is set to meet next week. Once the committee is established, it will begin meeting regularly early next year for at least six months.

On a related matter, county commissioners allocated $15,000 last week to the subcommittee so the group can hire the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research of Kalamazoo to conduct a two-part study. One portion will determine the economic impact the One Kent proposal would have for the county, while the other will look at the results of similar county-city consolidations nationwide.

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