GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Opponents of a ballot initiative that would mandate social services funding in Grand Rapids say the measure would also cut dollars dedicated to police services. 

“They’re trying to convince people it’s for all these good things … when, in fact, it’s really about defunding the police,” said Ed Kettle, a long-time political consultant and member of Citizens for Safe Neighborhoods, a coalition opposing the ballot measure.

“These things (ballot initiative organizers) want to do are important things. We don’t have an argument with the cause. We have an argument with the methodology,” explained Kettle, a retired public relations consultant whose firm counted the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association among its clients.

Joining the coalition opposing the ballot initiative is David Doyle, a veteran political consultant who has run many successful millage proposals in Grand Rapids. It was Doyle who led the Safety ’95 campaign that allowed GRPD to hire 95 new police officers and set the requirement that at least 32% of the city’s general fund go to police services as long as the city income tax rate meets a certain threshold. Kettle also worked on that campaign.

The 2022 ballot proposal, known as the Community-Owned Safety initiative, is backed by the Urban Core Collective, NAACP of Greater Grand Rapids, ACLU Michigan, LINC UP and Urban League of West Michigan.

Organizers must gather 7,500 signatures by 5 p.m. Tuesday to place the measure on the November ballot. 

The proposed ballot measure would mandate a certain percentage of Grand Rapids’ general fund be used for affordable housing and several other social service-oriented endeavors.

The initiative language reads in part, “A proposal to amend the City Charter of the City of Grand Rapids…. to replace certain mandatory budget appropriations .. and instead require the City to appropriate no less than 9.8% of the General Operating Fund for affordable housing, mental and physical health, environmental sustainability, police accountability, and economic growth of communities with disproportionately high gun violence, unemployment and child poverty.”

Denavvia Mojet, campaign manager for the ballot initiative, told News 8 the effort is not connected to the defund the police movement.

She did, however, acknowledge that the 9.8% social services funding mandate would replace the current charter requirement that 32% of the city’s general fund go to police services.

“The Community-Owned Safety ballot measure is about securing funding for the critical social services that Grand Rapidians have been asking for for years,” said Mojet. “I’m not using the term ‘defund the police’ because that’s a different movement. The defund the police movement is a completely separate initiative entirely, and they have a valid space in this city, and they are advocating with elected officials and city administrators for what their goals are.”

Mojet said police funding should be determined on a yearly basis like any other city department.

“This ballot measure is really about solving issues that make people feel unsafe in our city that policing does not wholly address. We can continue to deploy police wherever is appropriate, and they will still get funded whatever is appropriate after this ballot measure passes. What will change is that Grand Rapids will have durable funding to address our housing crisis, our inability to afford homes in Grand Rapids.”

Mojet said a group of non-profits worked for two years to determine the needs of Grand Rapidians, and that effort led to the creation of the ballot proposal. 

“We need durable funding for (affordable housing and social services), and we need it so badly because (right now) we are only funding things that are not addressing the root causes of what makes this community unsafe to begin with. We agree, people want to live in safe communities, and there are ways to allocate funds in the budget to make this community safer,” said Mojet.

In a news release issued Friday, Citizens for Safe Neighborhoods called the ballot petition “deceiving.”

“It is … extremely troubling that the group is choosing to mislead the public regarding the true intent to force these cuts,” read the news release. “Citizens for Safe Neighborhoods is working to bring truth and transparency to the deceptive campaign practices and true intent of the proposed defund Charter Amendment.

The opposition effort has attracted some well-known names, including third ward commissioner Reverend Nate Moody and former Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell.

“I do not support defunding the police,” said Commissioner Moody in a statement to News 8. “I take issue with the way they are gathering signatures, how they are saying it, and how misleading they are being about what the ballot measure would actually do. The fact is that police AND fire would be subject to budget cuts if this ballot proposal is approved,” Moody concluded.

Former Mayor Heartwell called the ballot campaign “downright dishonest.”

“This approach of removing the floor for funding public safety and setting a new floor for other services – out of the General Fund – is devious as a way of defunding the police,” wrote Heartwell in a statement.

David Doyle encouraged the Community Owned Safety campaign to consider seeking dedicated funds through millage proposals.

“We just don’t feel that taking money from current programs and taking away the floor of the 32% that police get is the way to go. Rather than taking (funding) from existing programs, we feel the better way is to put it out in front of the voters with a dedicated source of revenue attached to it,” said Doyle.

The opposition group’s news release called cutting mandatory police funding “a cause of great alarm given the current state of rising crime, especially violence involving guns.”

Doyle and Kettle want citizens to give Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom’s new policies and commitment to transparency a chance to make a difference.

“We just want people to vote “no” on this issue. It’s not good for the city. We’ll find other ways to get there,” said Kettle.

*Editor’s Note: This article was published on July 29, 2022. On Aug. 3, it was edited to add information about Kettle and Doyle’s involvement in the campaign that set the minimum general fund spending percentage for GRPD.