The Rapidian

2011 from a local politico's eyes

If you didn't know what a "funicular" was before this year, you should know now. The unique addition to John Ball Zoo is just one of many things making headlines in local government this past year. Read on to learn more!
Underwriting support from:

About the Author

This is the first in a regular series of reports on local government from Kent County Commissioner Jim Talen. In his eleventh year at the County, Commissioner Talen is also a member of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority, the network180 (community mental health) Board and the Kent County Local Emergency Planning Committee. Commissioner Talen has lived on Paris Avenue, near Wealthy Street, for the past 35 years. He sends out a weekly e-mail newsletter, the Kent County Update, to over 1,000 subscribers.

Sometimes looking back helps us look ahead. Here are some highlights in local government from 2011, seen from my perspective as a local elected official:

  • Despite Kent County's long record of cooperative and cost-saving ventures with other units of government, the One Kent proposal to merge Grand Rapids and Kent County received a lot of attention from the public and the County Commission. The proposal is currently on the shelf while a consultant prepares a report and a broad-based committee studies the opportunities.
  • The PDR Sustainability Subcommittee presented a 63 page report that outlined numerous recommendations for supporting farmland preservation. Not a single one was considered by the County Commission.
  • A major renovation of the Kent County Correctional Facility continued as jail population numbers plummeted. Nobody seems certain about why the numbers are down but the timing was good since inmates need to be moved around during construction. The project is expected be completed next year.
  • Gerald R Ford International Airport passenger numbers continued to climb upward following the addition of new, low-fare airlines. A recycling program was also finally put in place for passengers at the main terminal. All that good news was countered by controversial decisions to re-route de-icing fluid to a new Thornapple River location and to veer from the master plan in favor of a new commercial carrier tenant.
  • The Kent County Land Bank got rolling, purchased some houses and hired an Executive Director.
  • An important but controversial trail connector project, just outside northwest Kent County, eventually got underway after some re-routing.
  • Governor Snyder rolled out a "Dashboard" for state government performance and a new buzzword was born. Kent County led Michigan in getting one of its own going.
  • John Ball Zoo officials broke ground on a major expansion that will include a rare "funicular" to move people to and from attractions at higher elevations on the zoo property.
  • The Kent County and Grand Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau became Experience Grand Rapids and continued to buck national trends by significantly increasing the number of people visiting our community.
  • In a cooperative venture with Kent County, the City of Grand Rapids provided recycling carts to its citizens and then encouraged participation with the My G.R. City Points program. You can still sign up, track how much you're recycling and earn rewards.
  • The DDA began to take "complete streets" seriously with bike lanes on Grandville Avenue and a "road diet" on Division.
  • Planning for the Urban Market at Ionia and Wealthy is well underway but funding is still not quite firm enough to get the final green light. A decision will need to be made soon about whether or not to postpone construction for a year.
  • Rock the Rapids rocked Grand Rapids with big-name artists in its summertime downtown debut.
  • Kent County voters approved a millage for expanded transit and Grand Rapids voters passed a millage for its public schools. Both will be HUGE positive influences on the future of our community.

It's a long list and the stage has been set for many more exciting things in 2012. Stay tuned for regular updates!

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.



Thanks so much for this reporting! This is exactly the kind of quick digest I need to keep up to date on local politics.

Jonathan Pichot

Nice summary, Jim! Great to have a concise summary of the work of our local government. Welcome to The Rapidian; I'm looking forward to reading more of your articles.