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City commission meeting discusses commissioner vacancy, hears public comments on city fees

The Tuesday, May 22, 2018 Grand Rapids City Commission meeting had a lot of conversation about how to fill the third ward’s vacant seat due to Commissioner David Allen stepping down June 12, 2018.
Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids /Steve Depolo

The Tuesday, May 22, 2018 Grand Rapids City Commission meeting had a lot of conversation about how to fill the third ward’s vacant seat due to Commissioner David Allen stepping down June 12, 2018.  

The four public hearings, especially the hearings on city fees and nuisance ordinances also generated many questions and remarks from members of the community.

The city’s attorney, Anita Hitchcock, stated at the beginning of the commissioner replacement discussion that the city charter “gives the commission authority to appoint someone to a vacancy with a majority vote. It does not list any specific requirements on how the process should go.”

Commissioner Senita Lenear expressed that though she respected Commissioner Allen’s reasons, “His decision could not have come at a worse time, in my opinion, for this commission,” due to the “several critical decisions” coming up, including the city manager search and police and community relation decisions.

She also noted what a huge learning curve becoming city commission is and expressed a desire to appoint former Commissioner James White so he could “hit the ground running.”

Commissioner Kelly noted that the charter’s instructions were not ideal, but what the city has to work with and that appointing White would not give anyone an “incumbent advantage.”

First ward Commissioner Kurt Reppart expressed support for an “open process” while Commissioner Jon O’Connor expressed frustration with how the conversation has proceeded so far. “This is terribly frustrating. We can’t decide the color of a trash can in this town unless we have some sort of public engagement process around it. For all intents and purposes, we need to have a public process for this. And whether or not it sets up someone for success in a future election, that’s the world that we live in, that’s the process that we live with.”

Commissioner Joe Jones notes he understands many people’s frustrations with the process but said in this case he leaned towards the “side of wisdom” because the city was in “such an important season.” Referring to former Commissioner White, Jones noted,” There are those that have a lived experience that could bring significant benefit to the discussions we’re having right now.”

The public hearings were on the rezoning of six lots on Edmund and Hubert Avenues NE, city fees, the Uptown Business Improvement District and on nuisance laws.

More clarification on the rezoning lots was requested. Much of the public comment during these hearings centered around accusations of unfair time requirements, the inability of residents in the city to get repair people to come to their neighborhood or the pressure of fees on already strapped homeowners and renters.  

“I do want to comment on how hard it is to get people into the inner city...I’ve talked to workers about some things I’ve needed done and they won’t come into the city.” noted Joyce Daniels on nuisance laws. She had also noted previously she thought city fees should not go up “with the minimum wage being what it is.”

During the public hearing on fees, Allen Clark with Citizen Labs got up and reminded everyone about the resource they'd created so people can see where the city's money is going.

Public comments included Bonnie Burke speaking on term limits; more complaints about how the city and neighborhood associations handle nuisance issues; advocacy from Martha Cooper and LaDonna Norman for those affected by the housing crisis; comment from Russell Olmsted on the commissioner replacement process and concerns about national and local PFAS issues.

The May 22, 2018 city commission meeting can be viewed on the City’s Facebook page. The meeting agenda and minutes can be viewed on the City’s website.

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