GR ward change drive launches, as does opposition

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The drive to increase the number of wards in the city of Grand Rapids is officially underway. As things get serious, the grassroots initiative has gotten the attention of the City Commission and of those who oppose any change. 

The Grand Rapids Democracy Initiative, which wants to change the number of wards from three to eight, handed out hundreds of petitions Thursday at The Meanwhile Bar on Wealthy Street SE to those who support the idea, including resident Greg Davis. 

“Grand Rapids is growing as a city, it’s getting a lot bigger and we only have three wards. That’s ridiculous. So right now is the time, as our city is expanding, to expand the number of seats,” Davis said after signing a petition. “By having more options in terms of having more people involved, it’s going to make the process more fair.” 

Petition gatherers are hoping to get 7,500 signatures to put the issue on the ballot. Then it would be up to voters to decide whether there needs to be reforms or if things are fine the way they are. 

There is no official opposition yet, but there are those who wonder why the status quo should be changed. The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce has questioned whether things are moving too fast in what it calls an experiment. 

This week, the City Commission decided to create an 11-member commission to study the issue

“We’re looking at potential significant changes to the structure of our local government,” Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said at a Tuesday morning City Commission meeting.

The members would be mostly appointed by the commissioners and the mayor, but would also include those representing the groups urging change. 

“We want representation that reflects community diversity,” Assistant City Manager Dour Matthews said.  

They would meet once every three weeks starting in August and would submit recommendations to the City Commission Dec. 17.

That would be after the November election date targeted by Don Lee, who started the Grand Rapids Democracy Initiative.

“We’re not entirely opposed to holding off until the March election, but we’re going to gauge that on how the committee proceeds,” Lee said.

Lee is open to an authentic evidence-gathering effort by city leaders, though he is wary of the delay that the city’s process would impose.

“I’d like to understand what the unintended consequences might be,” Lee said. 

In addition to adding wards, there could be a separate issue on the ballot that would change the way commission seats are filled if a member leaves before the end of his or her term. Currently, new members are appointed by the commission. Under the proposal, they would be chosen in special elections. 

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