Grand Rapids

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

For the first time the Grand Rapids region now has more than a million people.

The boost in the 2012 estimate comes in part because of changes to the way the US Census is calculates the population there. The Grand Rapids metro area now includes Ottawa County because more than a quarter of the people who live there commute to work in Grand Rapids.

Tim Mroz is with the economic development group The Right Place. He says the million mark is significant in attracting big companies to the region.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Hundreds of Michigan cities are not saving enough to cover their future retiree health care costs.

A new report says more than 300 Michigan municipalities have in excess of $13 billion in unfunded liabilities for health care costs of retired public employees.

Michigan State University researchers found only half of the municipalities are prefunding retiree health care. The rest are setting aside no money despite longer lifespans and rapidly rising health costs.

While the collective bill of funding those benefits is $12.7 billion, the bulk of it, almost $11 billion, is attributable to local governments in a 10-county region of Southeast Michigan including Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties. The city of Detroit alone will owe $5 billion in retiree health care costs.

But MSU professor Eric Scorsone says cities like Grand Rapids, Flint, Lansing and Saginaw also face difficult choices.

“That’s already happening today….these cities…are paying millions of dollars in retiree premiums so it’s already having an effect and it will have an even bigger effect in the future,” says Scorsone.

Scorsone says the new national health care law may help some.   But tax increases, budget cuts or broken promises to retirees are inevitable, unless the state takes action.

user: The Ohio State University / Flickr

In 2012, Grand Rapids saw an outburst of violent crime, including nine homicides in which all of the victims died from gunshot wounds.

This week, two community groups called Urban League and Network 180 are hosting a series of meetings to inform the public about possible solutions and to begin a discussion about the future of violence in the Grand Rapids community.

Raynard Ross is a resident of Grand Rapids and works with Upward Bound at Grand Rapids Community College. Ross also serves on a panel to address the issue of violence within the Grand Rapids community.

The interrupters

According to Ross, street violence has reached a level of “borderline madness.”

“There’s a lot of retaliatory violence,” Ross said. “[Grand Rapids] is relatively small, so the degree of separation with those involved is one or two degrees tops. We’ve found that a lot of this violence is occurring based on misunderstandings and things begin to snowball and escalate and next thing you know we have something that could have been squashed by some early interrupting.”

That’s where someone like Cobe Williams comes in.

On today's show, troubling headlines have been coming out of Grand Rapids in recent  months a burst of violent crime. Today we take a look at what can be done to curb the violence.

And we turn an eye to medical care: just how can we fix inequality in access to health care in Michigan.

But to start things off... he has been an assistant Wayne County prosecutor, the deputy Wayne County executive under Edward McNamara. He was the CEO of the Detroit Medical Center.Today, Mike Duggan’s is making it official, he wants to be Detroit’s next mayor.

To take a closer look at the Duggan candidacy, we spoke with Rocelle Riley of the Detroit Free Press.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The City of Grand Rapids is waiting before it implements a charter amendment that decriminalizes marijuana possession. Voters passed the initiative last November.

But the Kent County prosecutor is suing the city to prevent it from taking effect. The prosecutor argues it’s against state and federal laws for Grand Rapids police officers to issue only a civil infraction for marijuana possession. It would be sort of like a parking ticket. Ann Arbor has had similar rules for decades.

The prosecutor tried to get a restraining order to stop the city’s administration from implementing the charter, while the judge heard the merits of the case.

But Kent County Circuit Court Judge Paul Sullivan said it was okay for the city to make the change before he decides the case. Sullivan declined the restraining order because he said the prosecutor couldn’t prove it would cause any immediate harm.

Mayor George Heartwell, one of a few elected city leaders who supported the charter change, said he was “pleased” by that ruling. In late January, Heartwell said the city would implement the change within about a month.

But now, Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom says the city will wait for a decision on the actual merits of the case.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The following is a summary of a previously recorded interview. To hear the complete segment, click the audio above.

The 8th Winter Beer Fest is happening in Grand Rapids this weekend.

Tickets sold out in only about 13 hours. That  got us wondering about the craft beer industry in Michigan.

After some research, we discovered that Michigan ranks fifth in the nation in number of breweries, microbreweries and brew pubs.

We had President and CEO of Founders Brewing Company, Mike Stevens join us and speak on the subject of beer.

Downtown Grand Rapids to see an increase in bike racks

Feb 15, 2013

Folks in Grand Rapids could find it easier to ride their bikes if they plan to be downtown this summer.

Eric Pratt is with the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority. He says a proposal to install more than 200 off-street bicycle racks and six on-street racks is being finalized for the upcoming season.

Photo by Haris Alibasic / City of Grand Rapids

The mayor of Grand Rapids wants all of the electricity for the city's operations to come from renewable sources by the year 2020.

I recently met up with Grand Rapids Fire Captain Tony Hendges to check in on the city's progress.

He led the way down a dark stairwell to the basement of the Leonard Street Fire Station. There’s some exercise equipment on one side of the room. On the other side are a bunch of large white metal boxes and lots of new pipes coming out of them: a geothermal system.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

About 200 administrators at Grand Rapids Public Schools are getting notice that they could potentially be laid off this summer. The school board voted Monday night to send out the notices, as part of a “transformation plan” it adopted in December.

A new report shows commuters are spending a lot of time behind the wheel in two Michigan cities.

The Texas A & M Transportation Institute releases an annual report on traffic congestion around the country. Many Detroit commuters will probably agree with the findings in this year’s Urban Mobility reports.   

Report co-author Bill Eisele says Motown motorists spend a lot of time each year not moving.

“Those commuting in Detroit are losing 40 hours,” says Eisele, “[They] are losing essentially a whole…week just stuck in traffic.”

Gordon Werner / Creative Commons

People flying out of the airport in Grand Rapids will soon have more options and cheaper flights.

On Monday Southwest Airlines, the “world’s largest low-fare air service provider,” announced flights out of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport will begin in August.

Southwest Airlines will double the current flight schedule run by AirTran Airways. Southwest acquired AirTran in 2011. It will also provide bigger airplanes, adding up to an 83 percent increase in “seat count” over AirTran’s  daily average.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The mayor of Grand Rapids called the state’s second-largest city the “pride of Michigan” in his tenth state of the city address Saturday morning.

Mayor George Heartwell touted the city’s record of sustainability, natural resources, and diversity. His list of awards and recognitions is several minutes long.

“And of course, who could forget Beer City USA?” Heartwell said with a big belly laugh.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Grand Rapids will work to put a new charter amendment in place that decriminalizes marijuana, now that a Kent County judge today lifted a temporary restraining order preventing implementation.

City residents voted overwhelmingly for the amendment in November. Under the charter amendment people who get busted with a little pot in Grand Rapids would just pay a fine.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Some Michigan cities that collect an income tax might soon see a revenue boost.

A state lawmaker wants to increase the tax rate cities can charge.

State representative Andy Schor is looking at lifting the current state cap on city income tax rates.   Four cities (Detroit, Grand Rapids, Saginaw and Highland Park) are already allowed to collect more than the 1% limit on city residents and  .5% on non-city residents.

HeatherHeatherHeather / Creative Commons

There have been nine murders in the last thirty days in Grand Rapids. That’s almost as many as the state’s second largest city sees during an average year. But the community is working on a game plan to fight the violence.

Friday morning about a thousand people gathered at Messiah Missionary Baptist Church. They prayed and they made plans for many smaller meetings over the next 60 days.

Robert Couse-Baker / Creative Commons

Maybe people are washing their hands and staying home when they’re sick. Maybe they’re not even going to the doctor’s office; toughing it out at home on the couch instead.

We don’t know why exactly, but the number of confirmed flu cases in Kent County this week dropped 43-percent from the week before. The number of people visiting the emergency room with flu-like symptoms has also decreased.

Statewide numbers are less dramatic, but also down from a peak in December.


“If you haven’t gotten a vaccination yet, get it,” Lisa LaPlant, a Kent County Health Department spokeswoman said. “There is a possibility that we could see resurgence of flu,” she adds.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - A Grand Rapids pastor is calling on city residents to step up and play a role in reducing violence in the city.

Clifton Rhodes Junior's comments Friday came in the wake of eight killings in Grand Rapids over the past month.

At a news conference at police headquarters, Rhodes said: "Our hearts are bleeding right now."

Rhodes is the pastor at Messiah Missionary Baptist Church. He says clergy, police, business leaders and social-service leaders must work together to find solutions to the problem.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Kent County Circuit Court Judge Paul Sullivan is deciding whether he'll allow a new Grand Rapids ordinance de-criminalizing marijuana to take effect while it’s challenged in court.

Voters overwhelmingly passed a city charter amendment in November that makes marijuana possession a civil infraction. People caught by Grand Rapids city police would get a ticket and a small fine.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A debate about guns is brewing in the City of Grand Rapids.

At Grand Rapids City Hall Tuesday night, several people had pistols holstered at their hips for a commission meeting.

They’re part of Michigan Open Carry, a group that’s pressuring commissioners to change a local law. It bans loaded firearms here, or any public place in Grand Rapids.

Mayor George Heartwell says he has a “very healthy respect for guns” but he doesn’t think they belong at city hall.

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

The so-called quick response vehicles are a cross between a four-wheel-drive SUV used to respond to medical emergencies, and fire engines with all the equipment to put out fires.

Grand Rapids’ Deputy Fire Chief Frank Verburg says the department will deploy three of the quick response vehicles for now. They have a 300-gallon water tank and a small fire suppression foam system.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

On Monday, The Grand Rapids School Board unanimously approved a district restructuring plan. Recommended by Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal, the plan aims to both improve student achievement and save money.

The “Transformation Plan” attempts to reinvent the school district by closing ten buildings, reopening one elementary and reforming other programs. The plan will save more than $22.4 million over five years, with at least half being re-invested in replicating and expanding effective school programs.

Courtesy photo / Heritage Auctions

This week the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation is auctioning off a bunch of memorabilia and personal items that once belonged to the former president.

“This is a rare opportunity for people that want to have part of President Ford or Mrs. Ford’s legacy,” Joe Calvaruso said. He’s President of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The City of Grand Rapids was prepared to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana today. But a Kent County judge issued a temporary restraining order to stop it.

So, roughly a hundred protestors gathered outside Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth’s office at high noon.

“It’s such a bummer that we’re ignored,” resident Nick Monroe said.

Garretttaggs55 / wikipedia commons

Update 9:00p.m. - There's a growing crowd of people who say they'll protest the prosecutor's decision in Grand Rapids on Thursday. The event was posted on facebook this evening.

The City of Grand Rapids was ready to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana this week. But a Kent County judge issued the city a temporary restraining order Monday afternoon at the request of the Kent County prosecutor to prevent implementation.

Marijuana in Michigan: What new pot laws mean for the state

Nov 14, 2012
miss.libertine / Creative Commons

Marijuana users across the state are claiming victory after the success of pro-pot ballot proposals in several Michigan cities.

Supporters say decriminalization of the drug in Flint, Grand Rapids, and Detroit shows that Michiganders are warming to the idea of a pot-friendly future.

But beyond symbolic value, how will these votes affect the way marijuana is managed and policed throughout the state?

Michigan Radio is venturing into the morass of overlapping local, state, and federal law to determine how the state manages weed.

We begin with a look at the new laws and how other Michigan towns have chosen to regulate marijuana.

user A7nubis /

Voters in several Michigan cities passed proposals to ease legal restrictions on marijuana. On Tuesday people in Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids voted overwhelmingly to make small amounts of marijuana okay to possess under city law. I’m not talking about the medical stuff here; this is just regular old pot.

"Prosecuting someone for peacefully using marijuana is about as ridiculous to me as prosecuting someone for sipping a vodka martini,” Tim Beck, chair of the Coalition for a Safer Detroit, said. Beck also worked to put Michigan’s medical marijuana laws in place.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

In Grand Rapids a number of groups are offering people rides to their polling places.  

Organizer Josh Leffingwell leans out of the backseat of a minivan to flag down a man walking down the sidewalk.

“Excuse me sir? Have you had a chance to vote yet today?” he asks.

Grand Rapids resident Samuel Johnson accepts the free ride to the school where he votes – nearly a mile away.

Jeremy Bronson / Creative Commons

The ongoing lockout of the National Hockey League could cause the cancelation of the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor. The outdoor game is supposed to be at the University of Michigan Big House on New Year’s Day. The week-long Hockeytown Winter Festival in Detroit would be canceled with it.

That would be a bummer for the Red Wings’ affiliated team the Grand Rapids Griffins, which is supposed to play at the festival.

“It’s a sad time for hockey right now,” said Bob Kaser, VP of Community Relations for the Griffins (among other job titles).

He says some fans have traveled to Grand Rapids to get their hockey fix during the lockout. Fox Sports Detroit broadcast a Griffins game last week. But Kaser’s not really thrilled about the circumstances.

Emily Fox / flickr

West Michigan is known as the bible belt of the state. There are countless churches in the area but there is only one hip-hop church. It’s called the EDGE Urban Fellowship. It’s fusing religion, music and dance as a gang prevention tool for youth in Grand Rapids, a city home to nearly 60 organized gangs.

Battle Creek-based cereal maker Kellogg has agreed to pay a big fine for violating the federal Clean Air act.

The violations occurred at Kellogg plants in Battle Creek and Grand Rapids.   The government cited the cereal maker for operating without necessary permits and exceeding federal emission levels.

Some of the violations date back to 1993.  The most recent violation took place in 2007.