Over the next several months, both the Kent County Commission and the Grand Rapids City Commission will replace their outgoing administrators. Grand Rapids will replace retiring Greg Sundstrom who has served as City Manager since 2009. Kent County will replace retiring Daryl Delabbio after 22 years of service as County Administrator. Assistant Administrator Wayman Britt has been appointed to serve as interim administrator and controller starting July 1. These two positions are arguably the most powerful governmental executive positions in the county.
The administrators both oversee large budgets that add up to approximately $534M per year (Kent County’s is $398M, and The City of Grand Rapids’ is $136). They also collectively oversee a workforce of approximately 3,000 employees. Combined, Kent County and the City of Grand Rapids is a top ten employer in the Grand Rapids Metropolitan Statistical Area. The City and County Commissioners residents elected will be hiring for these positions.
The equity implications of these hires are nearly limitless for the region. The City of Grand Rapids maintains a weak mayor council, which means the City Manager is the executive in charge of departments such as policing, human resources, and zoning. If police are biased in their contact with black and brown people (which recent studies have shown to be true), or if the city workforce is disproportionately White at nearly 90% (which is the case), the City Manager determines what actions, or lack thereof, are necessary.
Appointment of the County Administrator may have even more equity implications. The budget for the county is nearly three times that of the City of Grand Rapids. Furthermore, the geography is broader and services include policing, health, land use, housing, and voting. Are you concerned about redistricting? The Administrator will have a say in that. Are you concerned about county sheriff and jail cooperation with ICE? The Administrator is the Chief Financial Officer and determines the police budget.
The City of Grand Rapids plans to move quickly, hoping to hire in the next four to six months in the context of a national search. Mayor Rosalynn Bliss pledged to conduct public meetings and collect surveys to develop a candidate profile. Mayor Bliss said, “After paring down the herd the final candidates would be introduced to residents in public tours and meetings with city employees, neighborhood leaders, business leaders and faith leaders.”
The process or progress of Kent County is unclear. The County Commission planned to retain an executive search firm by early July 2017. However, little formal public communication has been made on whether the search for a new administrator will be national, whether there will be an opportunity for public input, or if the public will be able to meet final candidates. This isn’t all too surprising for a commission leadership that prefers to stay out of the news and under the radar. However, the implications are too heavy for the County to avoid including the public in their hiring process.
Now is the time for the people of this region to turn a collective gaze toward the hiring of these two positions. Equity PAC sees this as the number one political equity issue happening in the region right now. These hires will shape the policy landscape of our communities for decades to come.