GR task force talks city government recommendations

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A task force looking at ways to make Grand Rapids city government more diverse and representative presented its findings Tuesday.

But the question of if and when they’ll be acted on remains.

Several city commissioners said the issues are complicated. They want to make sure they make the right decision.

But those supporting the issues say they’ll only wait so long.

Either way, the Task Force on Elected Representation, or TFER, says the feedback from residents that it received indicates the people who appointed them, the city commission, have a big problem when addressing the concerns of their constituents.

“The criticism of the responsiveness of the City Commission was very robust,” task force member Joe Marogil told commissioners Tuesday.

The task force looked at suggestions from two citizens groups to help address the problems.

TFER said the city should move elections to even years to increase voter turnout. They also want to eliminate the practice of declaring candidates who capture more than 50% of the vote in August the winner of the race, eliminating the need for a November runoff election.

Empower the Citizens, the same group behind the successful effort to establish term limits for city office holders, are behind those two initiatives.

TFER agreed city commission vacancies should be filled by special election, but only if the vacancies would last more than one year.

Grand Rapids Democracy Initiative had proposed any vacancy be filled by special election, regardless of when the term expires.

But the most controversial of the proposal by Grand Rapids Democracy initiative, to increase the size of the City Commission to eight, one commissioner wards, was rejected by the task force.

TFER member did suggest the city consider other changes in the commission structure, perhaps four wards each represented by two commissioners, as an option.  

Moving elections to even years could be decided by commissioners.

The other three would be charter amendments, that the city commission would have to vote to put on the ballot.

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss says the commission could make a decision in time for the fall election.

If not, both citizens groups say they’re continuing petition drives to bypass the commission.

“The deadline is for us to submit our signatures by the end of June, so they can be on the ballot in November 2020,” said Rina Baker, a member of Empower the Citizens.

But will both groups pressure the city commission to make a final decision?

“For me, I can’t speak to my colleagues. But for me, no,” Bliss said. “My job as mayor is to be thoughtful and deliberate and not rush through something that could have a negative impact on our city.”

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