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Meet the new candidates for area City Commissions

New candidates that appear on ballots on November 5 describe what inspired them to run for City Commission seats in Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Walker.

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Election Day: November 5

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/Steven Depolo

November 5 elections are just around the corner and in Kent County, there are five new candidates for the City Commission. In Grand Rapids, Tom Kent is running against the current commissioner Rosalynn Bliss. Jerry DeMaagd and Steve Redmond are running for the open city commissioner seat in ward one in Kentwood. Erwin Haas is running against the current commissioner, Maurice Groce in Kentwood and Kimberly Cummings is running in Walker against Al Parent.

Being new to an elected position, many of the candidates' desire to run for office comes from wanting to put their experience and skills to use in their city. DeMaagd was encouraged by the recent embezzlement in Kentwood.

"There was an embezzlement in the Parks and Rec department and I believe my background in financial systems, computer security and auditing would help address that problem," says DeMaagd.

Kent started off his career working in a laboratory at a utility plant which offered him experience as an environmentalist on the Grand River.

"My technological knowledge and background in environmental studies would help us tackel problems with environmental issues such as pharmaceutically active compunds in drinking water and dealing with storm water," says Kent.

Redmond is currently serving on Planning Commission in Kentwood and has enjoyed the position.

"I like the variety of issues, big or small. They all have an impact on our neighborhoods," says Redmond. "The actions that the city takes affects everyone in the area so it's important to listen to what they have to say."

Also important to the candidates is the desire to change or improve certain aspects of their city. All candidates when addressing their hope to be commissioner mentioned a specific issue on which to focus.

DeMaagd wants to focus on transparency, not only due to the embezzlement scandal but also to make sure funds are being used in the most efficient way.

"There is a need for increased transparency or communication regarding the sources and uses of funds needed to operate the city," says DeMaagd. "The last public 'open house' for citizens to learn about the operations of all departments, including the assessor and finances, was sponsored by the late Mayor Richard Root in 2009. It's time for another general information outreach."

Communication is important to Redmond as well, who believes the citizens are valuable to city government.

"I really want to make sure Kentwood is responsible and responsive as a local government. You get the input from citizens and it helps you make sound decisions," says Redmond.

Similarly, Kent also wants to encourage accountability in regards to the temporary tax increase that is planned to end in 2015.

"I would like to see some accountability with where that money is going. I would like to look at both the cost of service and the efficiency of service," says Kent.

Haas wants to focus on the financial well being of Kentwood and points out why he believes a change is necessary for the future.

"Kentwood has acquired a 30 million dollar debt in the last 10 years to pay for repairs and replacements that had been ignored for decades, most recently 6.5 million dollars to replace the water system," says Haas. "The amortization is formidable and the city's bond rating is less than perfect. Cities should not borrow except for emergencies. Now Kentwood might have problems borrowing for a real financial stress like the small defined benefit pension plan needing huge funds because the stock market collapses or tax revenues fall short. I will insist on prudent municipal financial procedures."

Including a desire to focus in and solve a specific problems, Kent and DeMaagd express excitement to work for a city they are passionate about.

"As a 46 year resident of the first ward, I believe I know the area well. Also, I'm retired, so I have the opportunity to spend full time on a part-time job," says DeMaagd.

"This challenge of serving as a commissioner in Grand Rapids just made perfect sense to me, it was a perfect fit," says Kent. "I'm really excited about it. I think I can really make a difference there."

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