Friday, June 24, 2011


Blaming justly compensated workers and their fringe benefits for Michigan and America’s fiscal woes is the popular battle cry trumpeted by corporate kingpins, desperate office holders, and out of touch editorial boards throughout our state and nation.

Viewing our current economic straits from that perspective combines the historical accuracy of Oliver Stone with the compassion of Simon Cowell. Throw in the honesty of Bernie Madoff for good measure. It’s better fantasy than Harry Potter. 

Following this line of mythology lower paid workers with no benefits, or unions to look out for them, are our paths to progress in the 21st Century. That’s a line our citizens are too smart to buy, but that doesn’t keep talk show demagogues or corporate shills from trying to sell it.

Why is it that too many corporations, city commissions and councils, college trustees, public school boards, and other entities public and private hire their CEOs at top dollar, with lucrative multi-year contracts, complete with golden parachutes and generous expense allowances after costly national searches conducted by high paid headhunters usually outsourced from a different state or city? 

Freshly hired head honchos then quickly recruit their own staff of lavishly paid and perked administrators, usually aided by the same consultants who chose them.  Of course these “experts” are once again paid handsomely for their superfluous services.  All this is done in the name of getting the very best people with the reasoning being—YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR AND TO GET THE VERY BEST WORKERS YOU MUST PAY THEM THE BEST SALARY WITH THE BEST BENEFIT PACKAGE!  Really, why then doesn’t that logic apply to the essential people actually doing the work? 

Ironically, these overpaid layers of novices are often charged with cutting costs and increasing productivity.  How about leadership by example starting with the ones being paid the most and who are the least essential?  I know it makes too much sense and besides it would distract us from the easy scapegoating of workers as the problem. 

In Michigan our State Senate and Lieutenant Governor took this absurdity to an even higher level by defeating an amendment limiting the salary of an Emergency Manager appointed to take control of (and oddly enough be paid by) a nearly insolvent city or school district to no more than the statutorily required amount paid to Michigan’s Governor which would be a nice sum of about $177,000.  Their reasoning of course was we might not get anyone to do the job at such a low price.  Our personally wealthy Governor Rick Snyder accepts only a dollar annually from taxpayers and I would submit he is worth every penny!

Reality check time folks, stressed out, underpaid workers aren’t as productive and the taxes they pay cannot sustain our local, state or federal governments. 

How do these urban economic legends grow? Far too easily, I’m afraid.

Start with a grain of a truth; throw in a large amount of stereotyping and scapegoating; sprinkle on a heavy dose of exaggeration; fertilize with the manure of demagoguery; and nurture it all with greed and selfishness and over time you will reap a bountiful crop of deceit.

Let’s deconstruct this myth.

Over and over again the lie is repeated. Well paid workers with pensions, health insurance, safety regulations and other fringe benefits are the reason our economy collapsed. It falls apart quickly in the face of historical facts and evidence.

Michigan’s once legendary economy resulted from the energy, creativity, and diligence of our workers. The Arsenal of Democracy and the manufacturing giant envied by the world wasn’t created by over paid and underworked sloths interested only in union organizing.

Henry Ford was a selfish, miserly, bigot but he was smart enough to build a product his workers could produce and afford to buy. Granted the unions helped him along after a bitter struggle, but Ford recognized the buying power of workers and the multiplying effect on our economy. If labor and management join together in mutual respect nothing is impossible to achieve in business or government.

Rather than hurting the economy, organized labor worked with business to build the middle class. Buying power of fairly compensated employees drove the economic engine of success. That’s the reason Detroit once led the nation in single family home ownership. Employee heath care coverage ensured productivity and high morale. Life insurance prevented financial calamities and kept survivors whole and society secure. Earned pensions improved the quality of life and provided security in the golden years. Our strong tax base gave us effective state and local government services: superb public safety; wonderful recreational opportunities; a strong infrastructure system of free highways, good roads, and secure bridges; thriving and stable communities with excellent public school systems.  Michigan was a state people flocked to as a great place to live, work and raise a family.  No one builds a solid foundation of commerce with a low paid and demoralized work force.

What happened to Michigan’s economy?

The Federal government blundered into free trade agreements skewered to the benefits of other countries and multinational corporations placing American manufacturers at an unfair disadvantage. Our well trained and highly skilled workforce can compete against any country in the world on an even playing field, but that doesn’t exist. Instead they face products made by prison, child, and even slave labor. Lax, unenforced, or entirely absent safety rules and environmental standards aided and abetted at times by corrupt governments permit foreign manufacturers a decidedly lower cost advantage over their American competitors.  Though some of our foreign competitors facing rising energy, transportation, and even labor costs and are in danger of losing some of their price advantage. Heaven knows they can’t match our quality.  So they are exploiting the resources and workers of even poorer countries to hold unto the low prices needed for profit.  Do we really want to join them in this race to the bottom at the cost of human rights and environmental destruction?

Even the American consumer doesn’t benefit from these trade laws. Low quality imports such as toxic toys from China are recalled weekly and health problems often result from contaminated agricultural products from other countries.

Corporate America’s unbridled greed, incompetence, and reckless spending also helped crash the economy. Gamblers on Wall Street and their bank buddies risked everything, lost, and received a huge taxpayer bailout.

Yet the mantra continues it is the worker’s wages and benefits bringing America down.

Are labor unions perfect? Of course not. They’re run by fallible human beings subject to the same weaknesses, corruption, and stupidity as their corporate counterparts.

Too often used as easy scapegoats to cover management mistakes, there are still times when concessions of hard won wages and benefits are warranted to ensure an employer’s and their own economic vitality. The evidence of their cooperation during this recession are many, but when management moves overseas, not because they are losing money but because their greed demands more, the lost purchasing power of the workers triggers a downward spiral in the economy and destroys the tax base for every level of government negatively impacting the quality of life in our communities.

Nowadays the social justice accomplishments of organized labor and the sacrifices made by union pioneers are often forgotten or taken for granted.

Every working person in America has been positively affected by the work rules, safety standards and wage and hour regulations achieved by organized labor, not to mention progress in civil rights and other areas.

Does anyone really believe American’s standard of living was beneficently granted by the captains of corporate America?  Though I readily acknowledge there are some generous union and non-union company owners who value their workers. Sadly they have never been the majority and deteriorate often when ownership changes -generational or otherwise.

Labor unions provided the balance assuring workers rights and wages became part of achieving the American dream for everyone.

One final word on union work forces, scan the news in Michigan and you will find more stories of collaboration and cooperation than examples of confrontation.

Where there is labor unrest it more often takes the form of lock-outs where willing workers are denied the
opportunity to do their jobs by management rather than work stoppage by the employees.

Since a large number of public employees are members of organized labor, responsibility for the bleeding governmental budgets at all levels are blamed of course on workers wages and benefits.

Newly elected cadres of Governors are using pliable legislators and willing local elected officials to cut wages and benefits of public employees and limit or in some states eliminate their collective bargaining rights completely. 

An unfortunate outright state of wages and benefits war exists between elected leaders and public employees in too many parts of our country dividing the nation to no one’s benefit.  Both sides have been guilty of stupid excesses.   

Citizens fired up by elected demogues hurl insults at dedicated public servants who protect them, teach their children or make their state and communities decent places to live and work in countless ways. People need to be educated in facts and courtesy.  Some union members have gotten in the faces of legislators and blocked or tried to prevent them from carrying out their elected duties.  Intimidation wins nothing, plays into stereotypes, and makes the victim look like a hero on the news. Profanity and vulgarity let off steam but takes the wind out of your argument.  Debate civilly with facts, using reason in a verbal version of Aikido and you can leave your opponent disarmed, defeated and if you do it with the right touch of razor sharp, but gentle wit, even laughing.

Taking to the streets means non-violent demonstrations with intelligent speakers eloquently laying out the facts infused with truth and justice.  Moral authority and servant leadership enabled Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, and union leaders to win victories in civil rights and labor.  It’s also one of the reasons why the labor movement in America was never seduced and corrupted by communism. Rights are won because they are natural rights.  Fear of lost income and falling standards of living have infected many resulting in some aberrant behavior.   Genuine civic leaders need to cool passions with sincere dialogue and logic not inflame them with political platitudes to fuel future ambitions.

Instead of looking for strategic ways to address structural problems, elected officials want the focus off their incompetence and join the familiar chorus of worker blame. Editorial boards spurred on by business leaders and opportunistic politicians are now even calling for an end to the binding arbitration process operated by professionally qualified impartial arbitrators glibly pronouncing since they believe the arbitrators must take turns being fair to everyone or they lose their jobs they can’t be called impartial any longer. Where is the evidence of their convoluted logic?

If there is a system of justice operating effectively for years and you have valid concerns then amend it, don’t end it!

Police and firefighters, the protectors of our communities putting their lives on the line daily to protect and serve, have no other recourse for justice except for Public Act 312 in Michigan and similar protections in other states that established an unbiased arbitration system.  It is not used often and they certainly don’t win every time, so why deprive them of their only mechanism of due process when it comes to labor contracts?

America can’t survive as a superpower or remain an economic giant without manufacturing products.  Historically, even wars are won by the side with the strongest industrial base. Governments run effectively with a competent well trained and experienced workforce.

Government trade policies promoting free and fair trade coupled with strategic investments in research and
development, along with high tech workforce training and a commitment to affordable quality education is the recipe to rebuild our economy.

When the high paying jobs return so will Michigan’s and our Nation’s economy and tax base. High paid workers with their buying power and tax paying ability are the solution, not the problem.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Dear Mayor Root, Commissioner Cummings and the remainder of the Unforgiving Five:

It has been a week since our last communication regarding your bizarre proposal to amend the governing document of your city after realizing there dwells an ex-felon amongst you.

The only reply I received was a thoughtful and courteous one from Commissioner Brinks clarifying a comment but failing to give a justifiable reason for placing this unnecessary proposal on the ballot.

It does not surprise me that no other member of the Commission responded especially the self- proclaimed leaders of this unneeded and vindictive proposal, Richard Root and Frank Cummings.  You have both beat your chests against ex- felons publicly throughout the media and not one of you have a salient reason for this measure. Mayor Root your public bragging about the City of Kentwood not evening hiring felons is taking even your bigotry on this issue to a new level.

Why Mayor Root and Commissioner Cummings have you launched this preemptive war?  Based on your belief in WMD(Waves of Moral Delinquents) that don’t exist. Where is the threat except from a self- righteous, misguided or possibly malicious City Commission sending a message of no mercy and no second chances to ex-cons seeking to turn their lives around or attempting to become involved in public service?  Unfortunately the casualties of this unjust war are confused citizens, the credibility of its elected leaders, and Kentwood itself.

Commissioner Cummings you claimed in a Grand Rapids Press story, (Felons could be barred from elected office in Kentwood June 7, 2011) “residents expect certain standards from their elected from their elected officials and for them to perform their duties with honesty.”   Indeed they do sir! Do you and Mayor Root meet those standards on this bogus issue? You continue to blithely bloviate on, “By allowing convicted felons as elected members, it creates what he called an embarrassment to the city and damages Kentwood’s credibility.” Again sir you are the problem you claim to solve.

Not to be outdone and to assert his Mayoral Leadership over this trumped-up crisis in the aforementioned article Mayor McCheesy, er Root proclaims  from his throne high upon Mount Moralympus, “ it is a question of people expecting higher standards from elected officials.”  You mean like intellectual honesty and not voting for unnecessary laws for purely personal political purposes.  An act that could be interpreted as a blatant abuse of your official office and power.

Let’s examine something absent from the Kentwood City Commission’s deliberations on vote on this subject-the actually facts.

FACT ONE:  There does not appear to be a growing number of convicted felons seeking office in the City of Kentwood and if they did it is unlikely they would win many elections “Aha!” scream Root and Cummings, “ but they did! They did! They elected..uh never mind. But we need a law.” (Note to the Mayor and Commissioner I-KNOW-YOU-DID –NOT –SAY-THIS-IT-IS-A-JOKE)

However it’s obvious the Commissioner in question is Ray VerWys.  You are aiming it at him and a closer examination of the facts will make it painfully obvious, but my opposition to it is not about him. Though this is clearly a political move against someone the voters elected knowing his record, but I digress and will address this later.

Back to FACT ONE: Does the Kentwood City Commission really believe the voters  are not capable of deciding the best person to represent them?
Present company excluded of course.

FACT TWO:  Last year the citizens of the State of Michigan voted to Amend our Constitution and it is now state law:

Make a person ineligible for election or appointment to any state or local elective office or to hold a position in public employment in this state that is policy-making or has discretionary authority over public assets, if:

* within the preceding 20 years, the person was convicted of a felony involving dishonesty, deceit, fraud, or a breach of the public trust; and

* the conviction was related to the person's official capacity while holding any elective office or position of employment in local, state or federal government.

Is that not sufficient protection or is the ROOT-CUMMINGS NO MERCY CHARTER  AMENDMENT still necessary to save the poor citizens of Kentwood from their own decision making processes?

FACT THREE: This is the most revealing of them and the saddest but completely  true.  In 2002 a sitting Kentwood City Commissioner was convicted of soliciting for prostitution. I will not drag his name into this for he has paid for his crime and unlike Root and Cummings I believe in forgiveness and redemption.  At the time Mayor Root you rightfully called for his resignation. However when he refused you huffed and puffed about  placing a morals clause in the city charter but nothing happened and the city survived and THAT WAS A REAL EMBARASSMENT AND THREAT TO THE KENTWOOD CITY COMMISSION’S HIGH STANDARDS AND CREDIBILITY. Commissioner Cummings, you sir the leader of this charge against  someone who admitted his crime and paid his dues yet voters still chose him over an incumbent, you were pretty silent then. WHY??

If you REALLY CARED about the City and all of your phony arguments you could have urged a recall or asked the Governor to remove him from office.  Under the State of Michigan’s Constitution the Governor had then and still has the power:

§ 10 Removal or suspension of officers; grounds, report.
Sec. 10. The governor shall have power and it shall be his duty to inquire into the condition
and administration of any public office and the acts of any public officer, elective or appointive.
He may remove or suspend from office for gross neglect of duty or for corrupt conduct in office,
or for any other misfeasance or malfeasance therein, any elective or appointive state officer,
except legislative or judicial, and shall report the reasons for such removal or suspension to the
History: Const. 1963, Art. V, §10, Eff. Jan. 1, 1964.
Former Constitution: See Const. 1908, Art. IX, §7.
§ 11 Provisional appointments to fill vacancies due to suspension.
Sec. 11. The governor may make a provisional appointment to fill a vacancy occasioned by
the suspension of an appointed or elected officer, other than a legislative or judicial officer,
until he is reinstated or until the vacancy is filled in the manner prescribed by law or this
History: Const. 1963, Art. V, §11, Eff. Jan. 1, 1964.

FACT THREE  kind of exposes all of this as hypocrisy and political games by Mayor Root and Commissioner Cummings. 

I respectfully urge the remainder of  the Aye votes to move for reconsideration of this needless amendment.

As President John Adam’s states,  Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of the facts and evidence.”

The facts are not on the side of Mayor Root and Commissioner Cummings but fear and ignorance are, which is why even as a non-resident I’m speaking out.  Such poison spreads fast when allowed to go unchallenged.

Perhaps I am too passionate on issues but when I see a measure being fed by fear, ignorance, and petty politics I cannot be silent. Not that my advocacy will change things, but I always fight for what I believe in and hopefully others in the greater Grand Rapids community will raise their voices in the name of mercy and justice.

Ultimately this is not about Ray VerWys alone or even all the ex-felons Mayor Root brags about not employing. It is about mercy, forgiveness and redemption.

Here is the Preamble to your City Charter:

“We, the people of the City of Kentwood, by the grace of God, and pursuant to authority granted by the constitution and laws of the State of Michigan, in order to secure the benefits of local self-government, and otherwise promote our common interests and welfare, ordain and establish this Charter.”

Dei Gratia, by the Grace of God recognizing a higher power.  Hey it is your city charter not mine.  It seems to me His standards are even higher than those in the gospels of Root and Cummings.  “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. Father forgive them, they know not what they are doing.”  You all know and that is scary!
Aristotle and Aquinas  both regarded forgiveness as a virtue.  In a Root/Cummings world is virtue no longer welcome? According to Reason or Religion you are wrong on this matter.
You need to quit playing politics with mercy and forgiveness. Surely you have more important things to do than trample redemption and second chances?  If not you need to get out of the way and let compassion and competent leaders take over.

On your homepage Mayor Root you declare, ““We have, and will continue to work together to maintain a high quality of life, building a sense of community where businesses and families proudly say “My address is Kentwood, Michigan.”

This amendment destroys community by exclusion and bigotry tearing down Kentwood and not building it up.

 In the West Michigan STRATEGIC ALLIANCE document which Kentwood claims to support © 2009 Published April, 2009. It clearly states: “The Second Chance Job Project, led by Legal Aid of Western Michigan,
received a 2008 funding award from WIRED. It is designed to improve prisoner reentry into the workforce by educating the region’s employers on the value of hiring ex-offenders, while also challenging common misconceptions. Second Chance will hold employer recruitment seminars and job placement trainings and will coordinate with the Reentry Employment Resource Center (RERC) on the placement of the ex-offenders into the workforce to build our talent pool and preserve critical state resources. Michigan currently spends more than $36,000 per year to house and supervise each prisoner.”  Perhaps Kentwood opposes this, but you should let the rest of West Michigan know that NO MERCY, Michigan doesn’t believe in Second Chances!

Commissioner Brown you did your thinking now it is time to act with wisdom.

 Commissioners we all make mistakes, admit this one.  Use moral courage, intellectual honesty and common sense. Move to reconsider and kill this nonsense in its tracks and it will be forgotten.  Let this senseless fear mongering  be pursued and your city will be a punch line while this drags on and on and all who support it will have a blotch on their record that will be indefensible.

Any of you are welcome on my radio program and here is last week’s show where Kentwood was roundly roasted for this misguided measure.
simulcast on 1680 AM and 95.3 FM and streaming live on . You would be treated with civility but tough questions. If you can justify this nonsense  call in 656-1680 between 10AM to noon and they will put you through.

I hope you see the light especially since this is such a mean spirited action and embarrasses your city.

Please reconsider you ‘ll be forgiven, everyone deserves a second chance.


Saturday, June 11, 2011


Well sort of, they actually want to place it on the ballot so the voters can do their work for them.  Not only redemption, but forgiveness and second chances seem under assault. Will Mercy and Justice be next?

I am being only somewhat sarcastic. The above terms are not an unfair foundation upon which to build an opposing argument to the Commission’s action.

Allow me to clarify. On Tuesday, June 7th the Kentwood City Commission approved placing a proposal on November’s ballot amending their city charter to ban any person convicted of a felony from holding elective office in the City of Kentwood. 

Candidly the Commission should have named it the “Anti-Ray VerWys Amendment” since without his election in 2009 by the citizens of Kentwood’s 2nd Ward, despite being convicted of embezzlement nine years earlier, according to Commissioner Frank Cummings and his band of political vigilantes the very integrity of the great city itself would not be in peril and the City Commission would not be forced defend it against this dangerous Commissioner.

For full disclosure I know Ray VerWys and he is one of several rotating co-hosts on my Tuesdays with Tormala radio program.  We disagree on many things and I had no role in supporting him for office.  There is no political or personal connection between us. 

In my professional interaction with Ray I have found him to be candid and committed to serving Kentwood and its citizens.  He also talks with obvious affection about his family.  I insisted Ray discuss his past on the radio regarding his criminal record and then we moved on.  If he was to do anything illegal or inappropriate now, Ray’s connection with me would be terminated. Absent such action I believe in redemption and giving people second chances. I would hope the citizens of Kentwood feel the same way even if their leaders do not.

Not being a resident of Kentwood some will say it’s none of my business anyway.  I have also been warned about the political consequences of speaking out on behalf of someone narrow minded snobs view merely as an ex-con.

Those who know me understand I don’t back down from doing what I believe is right and if you let fear and ignorance raise its head anywhere it spreads like wildfire.

Redemption and forgiveness are the very essence of my faith and I will always defend them.

According to the Grand Rapids Press (Felons could be barred from elected office in Kentwood June 7, 2011) “Convicted felons would not be able to hold elected offices in Kentwood if a proposed city charter amendment is approved by voters in November. City Commissioners Tuesday approved taking the question to voters by a 5-1 vote, with one abstention. If approved, it would not allow anyone with any felony conviction to be eligible for an elected position in the city. Commissioner Frank Cummings brought the proposal to the group last month. He said he’s been considering it since Ray VerWys, who has a felony record, was elected to the City Commission in 2009… Cummings said residents expect certain standards from their elected officials and for them to perform their duties with honesty. By allowing convicted felons as elected members, it creates what he called an embarrassment to the city and damages Kentwood’s credibility.”

In the same article Mayor Root chimed in saying he, “believes it is a question of people expecting higher standards from elected officials.”

Mayor Root did you or Commissioner Cummings make any comments regarding the illegal and embarrassing actions while in office of Kent County Commissioners Jim Vaughn and Dean Agee? Maybe you and Commissioner Cummings will lead the charge for a County Law barring convicted felons from ever holding office? Shouldn’t the standards for Kent County be just as high?  No wait, these weren’t felons just a violent domestic abuser and a reckless assault weapons play shooter. By the way I did publicly call for Vaughn’s resignation and Commissioner Agee made restitution and apologized.  If Jim Vaughn tells the truth, apologizes and gets help and Agee stays clean they should both get second chances. Why?  Redemption and forgiveness, they really are what builds a great community!

Commissioner Cummings do you really think it takes a felon to lower standards and damage credibility?  Have you not heard of Weiner, Arnold, Edwards, Ensign, DeLay, or even Vaughn and Agee? Perhaps your old Commission colleague who pleaded no contest to soliciting for prostitution rings a bell?  Why didn’t you and Mayor Root lead a recall against your criminal colleague or amend the city charter to prevent people with records of prostitution from holding office in Kentwood?  His Honor at least called for the Commissioner to resign, but when he didn’t Mayor Root  huffed and puffed about placing a morals clause in Kentwood’s Charter but there were no records of you calling for any action to defend the city’s high standards or credibility while your convicted colleague served out his term. How can you and Mayor Root call for action against your current colleague who has not disgraced the Commission while failing to call for a recall of a convicted one and didn’t bother the citizens then with a charter amendment?   It defies logic and gives your actions against Ray VerWys the stench of election year politics and pay back against someone who doesn’t go along to get along.  If you don’t like Ray campaign against him, if you dare, but don’t disenfranchise the voters of the 2nd Ward of their ability to choose whomever they want to elect.

You notice I am not using your former colleague’s name because it is over and he paid his dues. His family need not be dragged through the embarrassment that you are so callously subjecting Commissioner VerWys and his family to by your judgmental and crassly political maneuvers.

The past criminal action by a sitting Commissioner friend of yours proves it is impossible to legislate against the future actions of anyone.  To hold the past actions of someone who paid his debt makes even less sense and embarrasses the credibility of the Commission by its cruelty and lack of reason. We are all flawed and broken in some way except perhaps the apparently perfect members of the Kentwood City Commission voting for this sanctimonious and vindictive measure.

 How dare the citizens of the 2nd Ward elect someone not meeting the Cummings/Root standards?  They must be disenfranchised as soon as possible because obviously voters can’t be trusted to make the right decisions according to Kentwood City Commission standards.

Kudos to Commissioner VerWys for having the grace and class to abstain while he was dragged through the mud by the proponents of this misguided amendment, who apparently have no vices, but as Lincoln said about Lewis Cass, “even fewer virtues.”

Commissioner Mike Brown in a display of  principle and honesty voted against the measure, “because he said he needed more time to study and think it through.”

Imagine studying and thinking, how dare he violate the standards of your august body?  Quick Commissioner Cummings, propose an amendment before this common sense spreads too far.  It may impair your opportunity to punish Commissioner VerWys!

Mr. Mayor, do you not trust the voters of your city to elect quality elected officials?  You do realize they are electing public servants not saints.  When do you think Commissioner VerWys will merit forgiveness and earn a second chance?  Is he so far beyond redemption that the high honor of Kentwood City Commissioner will always be beyond his reach and that of others who transgressed in their youth?

Does the City of Kentwood ban ex-felons from working for the City?  Do you and Commissioner Cummings believe companies in Kentwood should hire former felons who have paid their debt to society and want to rebuild their lives and take part in the community? How are they any different from your colleague? Will you tell them they can work and pay taxes but they will never be good enough to hold elective office because Commissioner Cummings and you believe they would be “an embarrassment to the city and damage Kentwood’s credibility” and Mayor Root you claim that “it’s a question of people expecting higher standards from elected officials” and then go on to bolster your pathetic argument asserting “there are many jobs that do not allow convicted felons”.  Is that Justice Mayor Root?  It is not even smart economically to deny persons the ability to contribute to the tax base and society.

Ironically most community leaders, Houses of Worship, citizens and companies strongly support the Reentry Employment Resource Center (RERC) whose mission is to identify, promote and create immediate and sustainable work opportunities for returning citizens and to promote change in the conditions which limit their success.  Does the City of Kentwood, its Mayor and Commission endorse this just and pragmatic program? If so your actions of rejecting people who have paid their debt to society are sending a damaging message to RERC, its supporters and clients.

RERC has identified some strategic issues that need to be addressed. Topping the list is the current severe stigma against hiring people with felony records.  Maybe Mayor Root, Commissioner Cummings and the rest of their gang can explain why that problem exists? One of the RERC’s main goals is to promote a positive community attitude toward giving returning citizens a second chance opportunity.   Looks to me like the Kentwood City Commission, with the exception of the Thinker Mike Brown and your branded Colleague Ray VerWys, are the ones embarrassing your fair city and its credibility.

Mayor Root and Commissioner Cummings I would like to see you sit down with Commissioner VerWys’ wife and children.  Look into those young eyes and tell them why their Father is such a horrible man and unworthy to hold office with upstanding and infallible leaders like yourselves. Explain how if you make mistakes, apologize and pay your debt to society in Kentwood you’ll never be forgiven or allowed to hold office even if the voters want you.  Then go around to troubled youths and others in prison and tell them forget about hope, no one will ever really forgive you and you will be looked down upon for the rest of your life at least in Kentwood as long as Commissioners and a Mayor that reject redemption hold office.

Root and Cummings the new evangelists spreading their gospel of conditional love and limited forgiveness. Mr. Mayor and Commissioner tell the parable of how you passed an ordinance preventing the return of prodigal sons and will meet them ready to cast the first stone if they pass into Kentwood City limits. Do forget amending the city charter to rename Kentwood as NO MERCY, Michigan.  There your message would be clear.

I don’t think you could really explain your proposal to children. Their innocent would expose how wrong and unfair your proposed charter amendment is since the young can see right through political games and cut to the truth.  Better yet try telling God your reasoning.

It is my hope religious leaders and people of good will everywhere will contact Mayor Root, Commissioner Cummings and the other misguided Kentwood City Commissioners to make a motion to reconsider putting this unjust proposal on the ballot.

 It would take courage and honesty for Mayor Root, Commissioner Cummings and their followers to admit they made a mistake, redeem themselves and move on.   I know most people would forgive them for this entire embarrassing episode they created because everyone deserves mercy and a second chance, even politicians!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


With Apologies to Don McLean

Public Act 4 of 2011, “The Local Government and School District Financial Accountability Act”. This “Emergency Manager” law may be the most autocratic piece of legislation ever passed by the Michigan Legislature. It guts local control and turns it over to the “Emergency Manager” appointed by the State Treasurer who then sets their own salary and benefits paid by the municipality they are managing not the state. Boss Tweed and Huey Long would have been jealous of the power handed over by a pliable legislature to Governor Snyder.
This “Emergency Manager” can void all contracts, prevent the elected body from exercising any of their powers, even dissolve the municipal government forcing consolidation and removing the duly elected representatives of the people from office.  An “Emergency Manager” can also order one or more millage elections for the local government and control all Federal, state and local funds including those earmarked for specific programs and debt retirement.

Bottom line is the authority of the people who vote, pay taxes and live in their local government is gone and the power could rest with an unelected, appointed and generously paid (they are not doing charity work after all) bureaucrat answerable only to the State! In fact a Bipartisan group of State Senators tried to limit the “Emergency Manager’s” salary to no more than our Governor’s statutory salary which is around $177,000. Unbelievably the amendment failed by a razor thin margin, when the 19-19 tie was broken by Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley voting against this reasonable measure.
Most citizens of Michigan may not cherish their local elected officials but they do love local control and the ability to remove them or keep them through the ballot box.  We are one of twenty states that have township governments. There is a reason for it.  The smaller the government the easier to manage and the closer elected officials are to the people. Call your township manager, clerk, trustee, mayor, village president, city or county commissioner, or council member and you will get a return call (or should, if not stop by their home).  Will you get the same response from any Governor? Logistics alone would prevent it.
This law destroys the principle of subsidiary which holds a larger body should not carry out functions that can be exercised more efficiently by smaller ones. Yet, most legislators supporting this monstrosity ran for election on the platform of smaller government.

Imagine the outrage, media coverage, and outright revolt if President Obama and Congress proposed federal legislation giving the same power to “Emergency Managers” for fiscally challenged states, including Michigan.

Removing elected officials, consolidating governments, or the other dictatorial powers?

It would be an affront to everything our country stands for and held to be a violation of our Constitution!
I will acknowledge the US Constitution grants immense powers to the states over local governments, however the way Public Act 4 disenfranchises voters is what raises the question of its Constitutionality.

Let me ask which form of government in Michigan has been more dysfunctional, the state or local governments?

Which form of government is bigger and more expensive?

Most municipalities despite their problems have been run more efficiently and cost effectively than the State of Michigan and if they had a financial crisis the Governor already had (As I outlined in my May 25th Blog) under Public Act 72 the ability to appoint to appoint an emergency financial manager with broad and powerful authority over any local unit of government declared fiscally insolvent. 

Perhaps the municipalities should declare a financial, competency, ethical; you name it—emergency and remove the Governor and State Legislature to be replaced by an Emergency Manager with all of those despotic powers proposed?

Remember the fiscal problems of local government have been caused largely by the State theft of our own rightful amount of sales tax dollars know as REVENUE SHARING!

First rob the cities of their own money placing them in financial stress then declare an emergency because of their fiscal conditions, THEN remove their elected officials, install an appointed bureaucrat or consultant as “Emergency Manager” dissolve the local governments, and consolidate to your heart’s content taking all funds belonging to them and to top it off charge them for the services of the “Emergency Manager”.

Every local elected official in Michigan — except those believing they might be appointed “Emergency Manager” — should have been on record opposing this act. Instead almost all of them including the Grand Rapids City Commission meekly surrendered the voting rights and power belonging to their citizens responding to this outrage with deafening silence.  Our City Manager, Mayor, and one City Commissioner made more noise in a lip dub. (The video was great but the comparison is more than justifiable) Not only did they not protest this despotic  law but allowed our rightful share of statutory revenue sharing to be stolen and replaced by a $ 200 million pot of pilfered funds.  Grand Rapids will probably not get a dime from after it is divided up.
Perhaps lip dubbing a video on the impact of the lost revenue sharing might be the way to assist the wannabe celebs on the GR City Commission to find their “voices” for the people.
With apologies to Don McLean maybe they could use his music to lip synch:
 Bye, Bye, Common Sense Bye, Bye
They stole our tax money from our cities and let democracy die
Our leaders did nothing so citizens in one mighty voice cry.
Singing "Why did we elect them or why?
Why did we elect them oh why?
Michigan Citizens should declare this abomination an emergency assault on our democracy and voting rights and recall the Governor along with every legislator that voted for it!

California did it less than a decade ago over electrical power failures just one year after a gubernatorial election.  Michigan is suffering from a political power overload fit for a dictatorship not a free society!
Another option is to join Michigan Forward a group leading the charge for a referendum campaign to end Public Act 4 of 2011.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


THIS IS THE LAST IN A SERIES OF ARTICLES BEING PRESENTED GIVING PEOPLE A HISTORY AND SNAPHOT OF WHY GRAND RAPIDS IS IN FISCAL TROUBLEThey run from January to April 2010 and I wrote them for EMPLOYEES POSITIVE VOICES but they were spot on with some predictions and show it's not the unions fault but our leaders elected and appointed. In this one I take the Manager and Commission to task for proposals and cuts out of touch with our citizens especially coming ONE WEEK after voters gave permission for the tax increase by a small margin. Greg, George, and Company did eventually see the light but only after the public roared. It is a warning for us to keep them honest, transparent and responsive to the citizens of Grand Rapids.  Our leaders using common sense to form public policy would be helpful too.
On Tuesday, May 4, 2010 the citizens of Grand Rapids went to the polls and by a slim margin approved taxing themselves increasing the city income tax rate in the name of public safety. No mandate, no you’re doing a wonderful job as fiscal stewards, no ringing endorsement of the way our elected and appointed officials are running our City. I believe the voters simply came to the conclusion Grand Rapids was no longer safe and we needed to increase our police and fire staffing levels.
Just one week later not only was the infamous street light utility tax a discussion topic at City Hall, but Manager Greg Sundstrom was threatening to shut down the six city pools and halt park maintenance. Good thing the voters weren’t aware of the parks department scheme, I mean proposal, or the results could have been different. How tone deaf to the concerns of our citizens are the people running Grand Rapids? To be fair the City Manager always had the street light tax on the table, because the Mayor and Commissioners never told him it was unacceptable, but closing pools is something most people didn’t expect, especially when they were casting their votes to help the city out.
I’m proud of the voters that approved the income tax increase. Their actions were unselfish and clear evidence of their willingness to sacrifice even in the midst of economic turmoil to help make our city a better place. But I also have deep respect for the voters turning out in opposition to the proposal. I know they too love our city and in large numbers sent a clear signal to City Hall also. Live within your means! Together their message is powerful and grounded in common sense. Sacrifice and live within your means. Listen up Mr. Manager and Commissioners, the people are making sense and showing you the way! Though maybe it’s a novel idea to our leaders?
Mayor Heartwell needs to really listen to the public before limiting himself and the Commission to only what he calls “repugnant” choices. A careful and transparent examination of the budget, a rational reordering of priorities, imaginative critical thinking and truly embracing our voters’ message of sacrifice and fiscal responsibility would give our leaders a number of reasonable alternatives to the obnoxious choices with which they now struggle.
If the Commissioners really don’t want to slap our taxpayers in the face and steal summer from our children there are other options. It only takes will and leadership to set Grand Rapids on the right track. Oh, but it also means the Commission must lead and the Manager implement their budget and priorities!
First an outline of the street light tax, though the Orwellian description of it is as a street lighting “fee,” our clever citizens understand its real purpose! It is quite the bureaucratic masterpiece. Bismarck would be proud! I can see consultants around the country salivating at selling this tax, I mean revenue enhancing tool, to desperate city councils throughout the land. Of course consultants are just city bureaucrats supplementing their fat pensions, but I digress.
I will save you the suffering of reading the actual ordinance language though it is available for masochists on the City website and I do applaud them for their transparency, but not for the legally obtuse language. However I’ll provide you with the straight talk translation. If you own property in Grand Rapids with an adjacent street light you will be charged money.
How much will depend on street footage and the type of neighborhood you live in, but the greater your frontage the higher your costs. It won’t be good for residents, businesses, non-profits, apartment complexes, or houses of worship. I guess it won’t be good for anyone except the tax collector again displaying the bureaucratic brilliance of the plan! To be fair it is expected to raise over $3 million annually for a city desperate for money, but to me the entire idea is misguided and unfair to taxpayers, especially when there are other alternatives. Maybe if we taxed those little light bulbs that appear over the heads of city bureaucrats when they get these bright ideas we would make a fortune, well on second thought probably not.
Touching on the absurdity of cutting parks department funds and closing pools, the Manager and Commissioners need to stop and really think about what helps us maintain a quality of life in this city. Many parents bought homes close to pools and parks with the intention of using them. So did many residents without children counting on them for recreational opportunities or relishing the pure joy of green space. You certainly don’t have to live near them to enjoy them. They’re the part of the soul of our neighborhoods.
Years ago parks were the jewels of Grand Rapids and an integral part of our community and were treated and financed as such. We learned to swim and play sports in them. During the winter we skated, not downtown, but at most parks throughout the city. Wherever we lived we could walk to one. Park caretakers were goodwill ambassadors and our guardians, many became neighborhood institutions. Ask anyone raised in Grand Rapids during the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and even the ’70s and I bet they can match a park with the name of its caretaker. Yet now a home-grown Manager is prepared to carry through on the dismantling of this once great system.
We can’t tolerate that any more than we could tolerate the cutting of our police officers and fire fighters. A city must be safe first of all to make it livable, but a city without a vibrant parks system is not a livable city. Think of what the Manager is proposing for our pools. I’ve seen it before, closed pools filled with rain water turned into million dollar bird baths. Also bear in mind these closed pools will have to be “opened” at least for a few days this summer to make sure things are running correctly even if our children will be barred from using them.
Now that I’ve highlighted our problems where are all the solutions? I thought you would never ask!
First let’s address the Mayor and Chamber of Commerce’s mantra of blaming the workers and calling for cutting wages and benefits as the solution to everything. Baloney! This city is in trouble because of how it is run, rather than how its employees are compensated. Understand I am willing to have a frank discussion regarding wages and benefits and support concessions when needed, but all this talk about pensions is going after low hanging fruit instead of using strategic thinking to address the costly and structural inefficiencies that are the real financial problems busting our budget.
Again I am not afraid to have a frank discussion over what is better — a defined benefit or a defined contribution plan. In fact we will have one in this paper, but it will be a fact based discussion of the truth and some may find it surprising.
When you hear the city pension plan being attacked and held up as outrageous who do they cite, our top paid managers. That is where the problem is and if we removed the unnecessary ones and watched how much we pay them things would change. The public doesn’t know how much is paid to match a number of managers’ pension contributions. Sometimes the City match is in double figures — far greater than what rank and file workers receive but that is an article for another day.
Back to possible solutions to the city budget woes.
Embrace sacrifice and living within your means. You know the drill — freeze all travel for Mayor, Manager, and Commissioners unless they are coming back with a check with at least six figures. Every penny counts is one of the things the electorate are demanding. Sell the Mayor’s car and take away Greg’s $700 a month car allowance. If you have to tax lights suck it up and sacrifice yourself, citizens have done enough. Let me applaud the elected officials’ pay cut — which I admire them for and is a case of leadership by example. They must understand it is only a start.
In a true spirit of truth and transparency place up on the city’s website in an understandable and clear fashion the contracts of all the appointed officials along with the money spent by the Mayor, Commissioners, and all top management over the last two years and currently with an explanation where, why, and how money is spent. As always I recommend voting on and examining publicly every position and expense the city has and eliminating the non-essential ones. Middle management and upper management must be thinned and people let go not demoted or renamed. No one is being fooled. Really if this Commission could prioritize needs over wants in our budget and order the Manager to implement sound fiscal policy a lot of the problem could be relieved.
Now finally a way to raise significant money, put bids out to lease and run our parking system except for the cash cow City/County operation below the government complex that feeds our general fund. You know this was suggested before and there were significant entities ready to bid, unlike the travesty of the so called “Mystery Project” that wasted thousands of tax payer dollars and ended up with no bidders, just embarrassment. The proposal was fought by the Parking Commission and city management and the City Commission lacked the will to proceed and because of their failure and inaction we have raised taxes.
But what was a good idea then is a great one today when the city is in the worst shape ever financially. To not fully explore a venture like this and instead choose increased taxes and devastating service cuts would be unconscionable and a failure by the Commission of their fiduciary responsibility to our citizens. Here is the policy question. Must the City run the parking system and why? The answer is the City must try and provide safe, affordable, and accessible parking for its citizens.
It also has a legitimate concern about where development takes place and has used its control of parking system property to manage and assist development. I have no quarrel with and support these elements of our parking policy, but none of that requires the City itself run the system or not lease out the property and dissolve most of the department. Last time it was brought up bureaucrats told us we would lose millions that we collect in revenue, but failed to mention all of that goes to run the system not to cover the general fund deficit.
Putting out bids we could write a proposal allowing a private entity to lease and operate most of our system, but bind them contractually to have the parking prices set by the City Commission. We could also insist if they built something on the properties they would have to maintain the same number of parking spots. For ramps we owe money on they would have to assume or pay off the debt and the surplus in the parking system would be turned over to us.
Even a take back clause and a penalty could be included. It might be possible to clear $25 million or more of profit from such a lease arrangement, plus the surplus, and the annual income from income tax and maybe even a payment in lieu of taxes from the leased property. With sound budgeting of needs we could fund priorities like police and fire staffing, parks, pools, planning, neighborhood services, and infrastructure. We could go back to the future and rebuild our parks making them neighborhood assets once again.
What I have outlined are not “repugnant” options but viable alternatives. If Commissioners Gutowski and Shaffer don’t want to tax our citizens any further here is their chance to put our City on sound financial footing. If Commissioners Bliss and Lumpkins want pools open they can join the push for a sane fiscal policy with creative opportunities. If the Mayor wants real sustainability this is his chance and if Greg Sundstrom doesn’t want to be known as the City Manager that presided over the financial destruction of Grand Rapids he’ll jump on board too! At least the topic should be thoroughly explored.
Urge our elected officials to park the Street Light Tax and turn the lights on to examine leasing our parking system and resizing our management structure. Otherwise we are back to repugnant choices where we all lose.