G-Sync: Local Ballot Measure is a Real Job Killer*

Apparently, it is high fashion in Grand Rapids during election season to use one’s position to employ sensational tactics from the past (as far back as 1974 (or later)) to continue to back a centuries-old argument of what would happen if Grand Rapids passed a sane marijuana policy.

Honestly, it is like arguing the merits of a horse and buggy when we all are in technology fueled cars today; society has moved beyond and forward while some are just Hellbent on keeping us from being in the times we live in.

According to Michael Tufflimire of Decrimillize GR aka Local Prop 2, this false leadership is seen in statements from local leaders like our police chief and the county's attorney. Both evoke a past that has been judged as wrong by future studies.

"Grand Rapids Police Chief Kevin Belk claims drug abuse rates will go up and people will fail more drug tests [if Local Prop 2 passes]," says Tufflemire. "Both go against time-tested studies from reputable institutions."

If this smart and solution-based proposal passes, it will mean that our community will be more attractive to students considering calling Grand Rapids home. And the rest of us can sleep soundly, knowing that our youth will not be treated as criminals for the rest of their lives just because they were caught with a joint. Truth is, Grand Rapids has become a think tank for smarter policies, and this is just one of them. (See link for Prop 2 organizers' stance on Belk and Forsyth.)

But the measure that is a real job killer in Grand Rapids (and with good reason to be) is the other local ballot issue, Proposal 1.

When Donijo DeJonge, Ph.D, our current City Comptroller (pronounced “controller”), was appointed to her position in 2010 after her successor stepped down after years in this elected position, she faced a lot of challenges right at the beginning others would not have had to face.

Not only was the city midstream in restructuring in how it would operate in a modern work environment that was also changing rapidly with the times, but also DeJonge would need to raise funding to begin the election process she would be subjected to in November 2011.

DeJonge went on to win her seat, but in the short period of time that she had operated as really our City's Chief Accountant, she learned a lot about how we operate. If we were to make cuts, she had to leave no stone on the spreadsheet unturned.

During her tenure, not only would the city witness her steely gaze on making us smarter through the recommendations she would make to our City Commission, City Manager, and staff, but our community would witness DeJonge’s recommendation that it was good business to cut of her own $72,000 salary down to that of our Mayor's (also a paid, part-time position with a greater than full-time commitment).

DeJonge’s first recommendation to cut her pay was based on the fact that her elected position, tied to our original City Charter created in 1916, has no real job description, much less a set time commitment. All that was needed for the job was to oversee the city’s 15 employees in the accounting department, as well as oversee the accounts payable, accounting services, payroll, internal audit, and financial systems. And it could be done a lot more efficiently, according to DeJonge. She prevailed, showing how she was rewarded with less pay, but performed more at a savings to our city with her abilities.

She recommended the consolidation of her duties -- which truly are critical to a city's financial advancement, and hence, must be performed by a competent leader -- because all you need to get this job is to live in the city, and be able to get one more vote than your opponent.  

Absurd, yes. Our City’s charter and thus mode of operation for nearly 100 years is a risky dysfunction many think is too risky and one easily exploited by outsiders.

If Prop One passes, Donijo DeJonge will no longer have a job. And this is just the way she likes it, as we conversed over the phone the other day about the changes.

“In 1916, when we adopted our current city charter that governs this position, it was the time of New York’s famous Tammany Hall -- a period of government abuse and intense corruption,” says Dejonge, a Ph.D graduate of Rutgers University and now professor of Public Finance with the School of Public, Nonprofit, and Health Administration at Grand Valley State University. “It just blew my mind that this position contained so much vagueness and demanded so little of the person who would hold such power.”

And it is worth noting that it was one of her students who advised her that maybe she was the one to address the topic while she was in office.

So lest you think this is just about morphing her elected position, as she would transition into just another “hired by the City Manager position,” think again.

Not only would Prop 1’s passage make us the first in our state to modernize, as she has proposed with the aid of others at City Hall, including the city attorney who has reviewed her proposal via the civil service board, it would also come with a special touch that is uniquely DeJonge’s.

Currently, when audits are conducted within City Hall, they are done internally, which has always made DeJonge uncomfortable, as well as business leaders. It opens an institution for potentially less than truthful reporting, as seen by the Enron scandal of the aughts.

DeJonge's proposal would not only bring the position in line with other positions at City Hall (where you must be vetted and qualified for the position), but it would set up within the City the ability to begin to move forward in hiring an outside firm to audit their finances, effectively removing the conflicts within the hierarchy of our City.

She is quick to point out that this is not because there is corruption, but it is simply a move businesses have put in place while governments in our state have not. Grand Rapids’ ballot measure would be a first in many ways.

And while some of my poltico friends have said that changing this is not necessary, since the public deserves the right to continue to do business as usual, many others feel that with all the cities under state control, Grand Rapids needs to do all within its power to not only look at how we do business with our community on their behalf, but also develop smart policies for the resources with which it has been bestowed.

“I can be one of the biggest cynics on the West Side of the state,” says DeJonge. “But at the end of the day, government is a reality and if you give government the right tools to be efficient, they can be very effective.”

If passed, Grand Rapids will be doing something in a whole new way. There is no other city in our state that does what is being proposed by DeJonge and as a region that prides itself on innovation, we must give Local Prop 1 a very close look for the merits contained.

DeJonge might be a job killer as she eliminates her position, but the money she is saving by asking us to adopt smart policies will create more opportunities -- and not just more of the same.

The Future Needs All of Us (to innovate, lead, and vote smarter policies forward.)

Tommy Allen
Lifestyle Editor
[email protected]

Click here for all the bloody cool events happening this weekend in the G!

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.