Counties convene in Grand Rapids

by Jim Talen

Kent County Commissioner

 Kent County brought out the welcome wagon, last week, for over 300 county officials from all over the state of Michigan. The Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) held its two-day Annual Summer Conference at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

Members were greeted, at their opening meeting, by Kent County Commission Chair Sandi Frost Parrish and later heard brief remarks from Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell.
The conference’s wide variety of seminar topics ranged from health care reform to mosquito control to the county jail reimbursement program. Kent County’s participation in a session called “Innovative Approaches to Reducing Costs” showcased its “reverse auction” process for acquiring commodities that is saving the County around 17% on that type of expense.
MAC has a long history of providing services to county officials, having been around since 1898. It operates through a  16-member board composed of appointed county commissioners. The policy advocacy agenda is recommended by committees, and set by the board.
The organization provides a wide range of services to its county members including educational programs, legislative representation, local workshops, an eNewsletter,  an annual Michigan Counties directory, and weekly legislative communications, in addition to its conferences.
Each year, MAC hosts a winter legislative conference in Lansing and summer conferences in various locations around the state, from Mackinac to Charlevoix to Bellaire. County elected officials (including Clerks and Drain Commissioners) and various administrative staff typically attend. This year’s conference intended to feature remarks from candidates for Governor from both major political parties, that is, Republican Rick Snyder and Democrat Virg Bernero, but the visits never materialized as both were no-shows.
Michigan counties are suffering from the downturn in the state economy and the recent tendency of the state legislature to pass on costs to local units of government in what are often called “unfunded mandates.”  The conference focused on a variety of ways to improve government efficiency and effectiveness in a time of declining revenue and increasing demand for services.
MAC’s summer conference was one of many small conferences currently being hosted in downtown Grand Rapids. The local Convention and Visitors Bureau continues to work hard to bring convention business to the region – putting “heads in beads,” as they often say. The estimated effect on the local economy for a convention that brings 300 visitors to town is around $80,000 in direct local spending. That translates into jobs for area residents and contributes to the lower than average unemployment rate that West Michigan enjoys when compared to the rest of the state.