Street Talk

Street Talk: Transit workers throw Snyder under the bus

Art direction.

January 29, 2016
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Who’s responsible for the tragedy that is Flint’s water crisis?

It’s a question a lot of people locally and nationally are trying to answer, and many are pointing to a central culprit. Gov. Rick Snyder’s handling of the situation has upset a wide audience of people, including Grand Rapids transit workers.

This past week, more than 300 members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 836 in Grand Rapids demanded Snyder resign immediately over his handling of the situation. The union is part of a growing chorus of voices from political, labor, environmental and social justice groups that are dissatisfied with Snyder’s role and response to the crisis.

“We live in a state where it's illegal for a public worker to strike when he is wronged on the job, but it's perfectly legal for a governor to stop doing his job while his administration's incompetence poisons an entire city. That's backwards,” said Local 836 President Richard Jackson.

“Governor Snyder brought his ‘cheaper is better’ philosophy to state government, and this is the most tragic result yet. We call on him to accept full responsibility for his administration's failures and resign immediately.”

Jackson said although nothing compares to the people in Flint who were sickened as a result of the toxic water, there is a growing statewide policy pattern to cut costs at the risk of public safety.

“The loud crisis in Flint and the quiet crisis here in Grand Rapids have the same source: corrupt politicians who believe that it’s OK to sacrifice our lives in the name of fiscal conservatism,” he said, alluding to contentious labor talks with The Rapid transit system.

Lake lovers

The West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission has been gathering input from representatives in the public and private sector and the broader Muskegon area community to help develop a vision for the more than 4,200-acre Muskegon Lake.

The ultimate goal is to develop a sustainable plan for continued improvement of all uses of the lake, and provide a guide for communities, developers, natural resources managers and the public.

Through the public visioning process last summer, WMSRDC identified Muskegon Lake’s four major assets as environmental and natural resources, outdoor recreation, commerce and port, and residential.

Erin Kuhn, executive director for WMSRDC, said Vision 2020 provides a snapshot of Muskegon Lake’s assets, highlights community perception of the quality of the assets, and identifies priorities for future use and development.

“It was very evident that Muskegon Lake is a treasured asset to the community,” said Kuhn.

During a Port Advisory board meeting last week, the organization presented the comprehensive Muskegon Lake Vision 2020 report, while Development Research Partners also discussed the results of a Consumers Energy-commissioned economic impact study for an expanded Port of Muskegon.

Direct and indirect benefits to the state for constructing and operating an expanded commercial port is estimated at more than $94 million, with more than 420 direct and indirect workers earning $24.5 million during that period.

Patricia Silverstein, president and chief economist of Development Research Partners, said the port’s annual operations are anticipated to have a $280 million impact in additional economic activity while supporting approximately 1,700 new workers.

“The importance of alternative, reliable, cost-effective transportation options for companies needing to deliver their products to global markets is invaluable to Michigan’s prosperity,” said Silverstein.

With sprinkles on top

With Grand Rapids’ “dessert parlor” adding Blackford Capital managing partner Martin Stein to its ownership, Spoonlickers could be ready for some major growth.

One of the first missions of Stein and owner David Darling is to shed the “froyo stigma” because Spoonlickers also offers much in the way of baked goods, gelato, sorbet — and, in the future, ice cream.

Spoonlickers fell outside the criteria for Blackford to make an investment, so Stein decided to go it alone, and for good reason: His family loves it.

“We’ve been customers since it opened,” Stein said. “If there’s a celebration, it’s always top of mind.

“I think it’ll be around a long time. People will continue to enjoy desserts as long as they’re eating meals.”

The growing, profitable business was enough to catch his eye, but so too are the tasty treats.

Stein’s youngest son, who is allergic to dairy, loads up on vegan chocolate sorbet and tops it with gummy worms, gummy bears, Fruity Pebbles and marshmallows.

“I’m not sure how he eats it all at once,” Stein laughed.

“For me, I prefer the caramel yogurt with the bites of cookie dough. Simple.”

Holding the bag

Every Monday, more than 900 students at three elementary schools in Muskegon receive sack suppers from Kids’ Food Basket with an extra touch of love — hand-crafted drawings on each bag from inmates at the Muskegon Correctional Facility.

The partnership began in October when MCF chose Kids’ Food Basket as one of its community projects. It started off small with MCF staff donating the paper bags and a group of six inmates decorating them.

Two weeks later, they had decorated 850 bags along with wish-list items for the sack suppers.

The six inmates now involved in MCF’s decorating group donate more than 1,000 decorated bags every week — enough to ensure every child served in Muskegon gets a decorated bag every Monday.

“It’s a beautiful way for the kids we serve to start their week,” said Lynn Keech, Muskegon program coordinator. “We send all the bags out on the same day, ensuring that every child gets an extra touch of love to start the week.”

Kids’ Food Basket staff recently visited the facility to thank the inmates and learn more about their motivation for decorating the bags.

“They created a job we love to do,” an inmate shared. “It’s therapeutic. We get to have this connection to the real world.”

Another added: “It’s a privilege. It’s a privilege to give back when I've taken so much."

The correctional facility has continued to find new ways to work with Kids’ Food Basket since the partnership began in October. In November, the facility engaged its staff and inmates to raise enough money to help provide nonperishable food items for “break bags,” which are meals provided by Kids’ Food Basket to students over holiday breaks. Inmates and staff contributed more than $1,300.

“Childhood hunger is an issue that weakens our whole community. Ending it is only possible when the effort includes our whole community, as well,” said Bridget Clark Whitney, the organization’s executive director.

“At Kids’ Food Basket, we strongly believe that everyone has the ability to change the world and in giving everyone the opportunity to attack childhood hunger. We are so grateful for our partnership with Muskegon Correctional Facility and their passion for ensuring children have the opportunity to thrive.”

The sack supper program serves nearly 7,500 children in Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Holland.

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