Talks about Grand Rapids, Kent County merger will go on

Sep 27, 2011

Discussions about a proposal to merge the City of Grand Rapids and Kent County into a single unit of government will move forward despite numerous concerns about the final outcome.

Earlier this year a group of business leaders launched the “One Kent Coalition”. They didn’t really inform the city or the county of their plan ahead of time so initially there was a backlash against it. Many government leaders, like Grand Rapids City Commissioner Dave Shaffer, remain cautious.

“It feels a little bit more of an arranged marriage as opposed to a ‘do you want to say I do?” Shaffer said Tuesday.

Grand Rapids City Commissioners received a report this week outlining the main challenges that will need to be resolved. Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell says One Kent isn’t out of the question, but he wants the group pushing it to take it slow.

“Take a step back, take a deep breath and let’s launch the kind of a process that we know works well for us because we’ve used it time and time again – a citizen engagement process that starts with the assumption that all of us are smarter than some of us.”

The One Kent group says a merger would attract economic development, and improve government efficiency and services.

Several state laws would need to change in order for any a merger to actually happen. At this point, city and county leaders are only agreeing to continue talking about that possibility.

Grand Rapids City Commissioner James White is excited about that possibility.

“Grand Rapids has been innovative and a leader in innovation. So I’m looking forward to an opportunity to find new things that might be helpful to us.”