GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A marathon Grand Rapids city commission meeting that lasted from Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning didn’t go as planned for city commissioners who thought they would be voting on whether to cut $9 million from the Grand Rapids Police Department budget.
Commissioner Milinda Ysasi. who represents the city’s 2nd Ward, planned to make a motion to cut funding from the GRPD that would put the department’s budget in alignment with the minimum allowed funding in the city charter — 32% of the general fund.
Ysasi said the city attorney told her at the city commission meeting Tuesday morning to wait until Tuesday evening’s meeting to make her motion. But minutes before the meeting, Ysasi and other commissioners said they were hit with a surprise.
They said Grand Rapids City Attorney Anita Hitchcock informed them that state laws prohibit the commission from making such a change on an existing budget without concurrence from the city manager.
“State law requires collaboration and accountability between the legislative body (the city commission) and the chief administrative officers (the city manager),” Hitchcock said at the meeting. “Courts have held that a legislative body’s ability to accept or reject the budget recommendations does not give them the ability to unilaterally amend the budget.”
The recommendation didn’t sit well with Commissioner Senita Lenear, who represents the 3rd Ward.
“I’m challenged with the fact that I’m hearing this this late in the game,” Lenear said. “That should have been something, in my opinion, that should have been communicated to the public, this commission … so we would be aware of what was in our authority and what was not.”
Ysasi expressed her frustrations as well.
“I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do and I respect all of our individual roles and positions. We must work in concert to try to lead this city. I’m of the opinion that just because something is legal doesn’t make it just,” Ysasi said. “I think this is such a significant motion and I was hoping for more discussion this evening.”
The motion was never placed on the floor and did not receive a vote Wednesday.
The commission still had to take action on the city manager’s budget amendment request to take $400,000 from the police department’s budget and allocate it toward three new civilian positions to help with community-police relations.
Ysasi and Lenear said they felt the proposal didn’t go far enough in meeting the requests of those seeking significant funding cuts to GRPD.
“It sounds as though we’re not hearing what the community is saying,” Lenear said. “It’s clear that we’re just not listening.”
“The community is fed up. They’re frustrated with how we are doing business in this massive structure that is called the City of Grand Rapids The community has spent years volunteering for many boards and task forces and committees, giving their feedback and providing recommendations about what could be done for police and community relations. We have several reports. We have a ton of recommendations. We have not implemented all of those recommendations and we’re not even talking about all of the recommendations that we have not implemented and pretending like people aren’t going to remember that we didn’t implement them. People are frustrated and I’m one of them,” she continued. “I’m frustrated and fatigued and pissed off about them as well.”
Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss expressed her support of the city manager’s proposed budget amendment.
“I’m supportive of these three positions and the shift in the $400,000,” Bliss said. “We’ve asked a lot of (the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability). We’ve also asked a lot from the (police) chief. I think if we’re going to see movement on some of the things that we’re asking for we need to make sure that they have some capacity to do it. We need to do a whole lot more. I could not agree more. But I do think that this is a step in the right direction.”
Ultimately, the commission agreed and voted to approve the city manager’s budget request paving the way for the addition of the new positions.
Ysasi and Lenear cast the only two votes against the measure.
The effort to defund the police department further isn’t over. Ysasi is asking for a second opinion on Hitcock’s recommendation that caused her not to make her motion.
The lengthy meeting lasted more than six hours with commissioners signing off just before 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Watch the full meeting below on some devices or click here.