Major changes are in store for Grand Valley Metro CouncilMajor changes are in store for Grand Valley Metro Council


 by Cynthia Price

Legal News
It is clear that Grand Valley Metropolitan Council Executive Director Don Stypula has deep emotions about what has happened to Detroit, where he was raised.
And he has an equally deep aversion to seeing the same thing happen to Grand Rapids. “Not on my watch,” he promised a group gathered at the offices of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.
Stypula deplores the inner city disinvestment and flight to the suburbs which have caused so many problems in his native city. He, and a lot of other people, feel that Grand Rapids has the potential to avoid that scenario.
But it will mean hard work, and smart work.
Grand Valley Metropolitan Council (GVMC) has been charged with carrying out much of that work. 
GVMC is a metropolitan council set up under Public Act 292, shortly after it took effect in January 1990. It is to date the only such council of governments constituted under that act.
Falling under Michigan Compiled Law sections 124.653 through 124.729 approximately, the language authorizing metropolitan councils allows two or more local units of government in a metropolitan area to join together and adopt articles of incorporation detailing the proposed organization’s structure and purpose. As “a public corporate body,” GVMC is subject to open meetings act and Freedom of Information Act requirements.
That, according to Stypula, is what makes GVMC different from such entities as South East Michigan Council of Governments.
GVMC’s vision  says the organization is “dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of the people of our metropolitan area through collaboration among regional partners,” and the mission “is to advance the current and future well-being of our metropolitan area by bringing together public and private sectors to cooperatively advocate, plan for, and coordinate the provision of services and investments which have environmental, economic and social impact.”
The mission goes on to enumerate “many elements” that could contribute to such advancement, including planning for orderly growth, recognizing the benefits of diversity, and promoting a “high quality of life.”
Most, but not all, governmental units belonging to GVMC, are in Kent County. They include the cities of Belding, Cedar Springs, Coopersville, East Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids, Grandville, Greenville, Hastings, Hudsonville, Ionia, Kentwood, Lowell, Middleville, Rockford, Sparta, Walker, Wayland, and Wyoming, plus a number of Kent County townships such as Alpine, Cannon and Plainfield. Allendale, Tallmadge and Georgetown Township, in Ottawa County, have joined, along with the county of Ottawa itself; and there are a few townships in other counties as well. Kent County is a member.
Stypula said he is most excited that educational institutions, so essential for a region’s quality of life, will be joining the council as non-voting members. Grand Valley State University’s general counsel Tom Butcher will be sworn in May 6.
Stypula addressed community leaders gathered March 27 for the annual meeting of United Growth for Kent County at the new offices of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation on Oakes. He listed current areas of focus for GVMC: watershed work as reflected in the Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds; organizing sub-regional planning efforts; and geographic information systems work, among other activities. GVMC is the designated transportation planning agency for the area, which is unlikely to change.
He elaborated on the challenges GVMC now faces, to some degree an extension of those faced by most local units of government.
Revenue sharing has been cut at the same time that the tax base is shrinking, a double whammy for those trying to provide the services citizens want. Stypula, who is a former Lansing lobbyist, said that inflation-adjusted revenues are down 43.4% since fiscal year 2000.
Paid membership in GVMC is certainly one of the potential cuts on the table for municipalities, although in many cases the cost is offset by increased eligibility for funding that membership brings. 
To respond to this challenge, Stypula and the board feel that GVMC must re-evaluate and rethink the organization from the ground up.
Members of GVMC will meet on May 11 for a lengthy session to consider just such comprehensive change. Dr. Lou Bender, a professional facilitator, will lead them through the process.
Stypula said that even the question of GVMC’s continued existence will be fair game. “We’ll think about it like we have a fresh sheet of paper. The first question is, would you create it again?” 
In a later interview, Stypula  said, “We will be asking our members, how can we increase our value to you? What do you want to see, what do you want us to do?”
The possibility that some of the services GVMC offers will entail a fee in the future. These might include creating actual plans for green infrastructure or resource protection, or training on time-tested and/or innovative tools to help the municipalities create their own plans.
Stypula feels that one place where GVMC has consistently “fallen down” is in communicating to “our friends and neighbors” what the organization does and its successes. He took the blame and hopes to change that.
Stypula says that whatever the board decides to do in
May, he and his staff are absolutely committed to carrying it out.