New commissioners weigh in on business

January 9, 2015
| By Pete Daly |
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Three new faces have made their first official appearance on the Kent County Board of Commissioners at the first regular meeting of 2015.

All three are Republicans, and one of them cast the only “no” vote out of 19 votes total against the county purchasing development rights to preserve 70 acres of farmland in Grattan Township.

The three new commissioners were elected in November to their first public office. They are:

  • Emily Post Brieve, 32, of 7438 Missoula Drive SE, Caledonia, representing District 10. That includes Gaines Township and the southern half of Caledonia Township. The seat was last held by Joel Freeman, who chose not to run for re-election. She is married with two young sons.
  • Matt Kallman, 31, of 4137 Oriole Ave. SW, Wyoming, representing District 9. That includes Byron Township and part of the city of Wyoming. The seat was last held by Nate Vriesman, who also chose not to run for re-election. Kallman and his wife have five children.
  • Stan Stek, 62, of 1274 Whitepine SW, Walker, representing District 6. It includes Walker and part of the city of Grand Rapids. The seat was last held by Pat Szymczak, who was defeated by Stek in the September primary election. He and his wife have six adult children.

Kallman, a product manager for Grand Rapids software company Compliance Systems Inc., cast the only vote against the county purchase of the development rights of farmland owned by Denny and Dawn Hall using a $108,443 grant from the Wege Foundation. He also made the point at the commission meeting that even if the purchase is not made with taxpayer funding, there is still a cost to the county in monitoring such parcels into the future to ensure they are not developed, contrary to the legal agreement with the property owner.

“I’m not generally in favor of the PDR program,” Kallman said in an interview with the Business Journal.

He noted the Wege donation “is good, and I appreciate that the county isn’t directly” using taxpayer funds in the PDR program, “but in general, I don’t think manipulating the real estate market with the purchase of development rights is the best thing.”

He mentioned his question to county officials about the cost of administering the PDR program in the future.

“There is some cost there,” said Kallman. “Even though it sounds like it’s marginal, every little bit adds up. I just want to be a watchdog for my constituents’ tax dollars.”

When asked his opinion of the proper role of local government in regard to business, Kallman said the free market is most appropriate for enabling people to start a business or find employment, “with the government providing the ground rules — the playing field, and making sure that people are treated fairly and operating within the appropriate rules and safety regulations.”

“I don’t think it tends to work out for the government at any level to get involved in trying to restructure the market for some social good or other purported objective. That doesn’t tend to be as effective as the free market,” said Kallman, a graduate of GVSU with a degree in business.

Brieve is sales and marketing manager at Fastool Inc. in Wayland, a small business started by her father.

Brieve said she has always been interested in public service, starting in high school. While in college — she is a Calvin College graduate — she worked as an intern for former Michigan Sen. Bill Hardiman, a Republican from Kentwood. She also worked in the Michigan House of Representatives as a legislative assistant for State Rep. Tom Pearce, R-Rockford.

Prior to joining Fastool Inc. in January 2011, Brieve worked at Harold Zeigler Auto Group in sales and leadership roles.

Brieve said that in her district, PDR is an issue, noting her opponent in the primary election was “very pro-PDR.”

“I don’t feel the county’s money should be spent on purchasing development rights,” said Brieve. She said she voted for the Grattan Township PDR because it was funded by the Wege Foundation.

“I would just like to see more private funding used to purchase the (development rights) and little to zero county money on that,” she added.

Brieve said some people in her district have concerns about the Kent County Land Bank Authority, which she describes as “fairly aggressive,” and that maybe does not have “the best interest of business in mind.”

She said the KCLBA has “done a good job” maintaining its properties and requiring buyers to improve them in its goal to reduce blight. “But I do feel like the process should be really looked at. Maybe (the land bank) shouldn’t be able to purchase the land before it goes through the proper channels.”

Brieve is concerned about parents who refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated.

“I would like to make sure parents are educated about the importance of it,” she said.

Brieve believes the proper role for government is to “create an environment where business can thrive and reduce the burden (on business) whether taxes or regulations, if possible.”

She said government should be fair to all groups, “whether small business or large corporations” by “not hindering one or the other from earning money.”

Stek has been an attorney for 30 years and is a senior principal at the Grand Rapids office of Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone. His legal focus has been on dispute resolution, particularly litigation pertaining to real estate issues in the commercial and public sectors.

He said he decided to run for the county commission because he has been “very active in serving the community in various ways” since his graduation from law school. Stek has helped set up service organizations in the community and has served on the boards of a number of nonprofit organizations. He was appointed by Walker city officials to the citizens advisory committee, which he chaired, as well as the city historical committee, the police and fire committee, and others.

He said he believes his professional and civic experience has prepared him for service on the county commission.

“The timing was right in my professional career to be able do that,” he added.

Stek believes the responsibility of the county commission is to “understand and preserve and protect the best interests of the community as a whole,” a “significant characteristic” of that being the economic vitality and health of the community.

“I think it remains our responsibility to do what is reasonably within our power, and appropriate within our power, to advance the strengths and health of our business community. That may require us to be proactive at times. It may require us to be inactive at some times.”

“I didn’t come into this with a specific reform agenda that says we have a lot of broken things that need to be corrected,” said Stek. He added, however, he does promote “candid assessment of what we do and how we do it,” a process that commissioners ought to “engage in as second nature.”

Szymczak, the previous District 6 commissioner, served a short term that expired in December. He was appointed in March 2014 to replace Commissioner Mike Wawee, who was arrested in February and charged with felony embezzlement from a charitable organization. Noting “certain baggage” attached to the District 6 seat in the wake of the Wawee scandal, Stek said he believes his career in law has “uniquely equipped” him for the job.

In other action at the start of the new year, the Kent County board unanimously re-elected Dan Koorndyk of District 18 its chair, marking his third year in that position. Also re-elected unanimously, to board vice-chair, was Jim Saalfeld of District 11.

Commissioners serve two-year terms and run for election as a partisan process; just four of the current 19 are Democrats, the rest Republicans.

According to county officials, the board chair receives an annual salary of $36,500 and the vice-chair $26,800. The other commissioners receive $20,500

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