Friday, November 23, 2012

The 616 PAC Files Dubious Statements

I got rather soundly trounced in August primary for Grand Rapids Township trustee.  The four incumbents were supported by the 616 PAC, a political action committee that is rather loose in meeting the requirements of the Michigan Campaign Finance Law.  PACs are required to file financial reports.  The material for the 616 PAC is available here.

Although the PAC spent significant sums to elect the seven incumbents, the original required July and October financial statements showed no contributions and no expenditures, a rather surprising situation.

I asked the 616 PAC treasurer Bill Jackson for an explanation.  He never replied, but some weeks later amended statements were filed showing both significant contributions and expenses.  These are available on the Secretary of State website linked to above.  

The reports show that  all but one of the existing trustees contributed to fund their re-election, a quite reasonable thing to do assuming they are supporting a PAC that follows the law.  Trustees David VanDyke and Robert Roth each contributed $3,000 to the 616 PAC.  Lee VanPopering and Michael DeVries gave $500.   Chris Afendoulis and Edward Robinette (whose name is misspelled in the report) gave $250.  Rusty Merchant is the only trustee who apparently did not contribute.  

If I  understand the Michigan campaign finance law correctly (and I may be wrong), the 616 PAC was limited to $2000 to support the four incumbents.  It spent $7500.  I’ve asked for more details, which I will post here if I get them, but it looks to me as if the 616 PAC violated Michigan law in financing the campaign to re-elect the incumbent trustees.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

E-Book Check-out from Local Libraries

The meeting of the township board lasted 35 minutes tonight, largely due to the report from the Kent District Library.  The report included two interesting points not mentioned in my post of yesterday.  First, electronic books can be checked out on-line in e-book format.  The loan period is three weeks, after which the books vanish.  That eliminates overdue charges — which causes the library a bit of concern.  Last year they collected nearly a third of a million dollars in fines.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Agenda for the July 17 Grand Rapids Township Trustee Meeting

The trustees have a relatively light agenda for Tuesday evening.  In the absence of Supervisor DeVries, Dave Van Dyke will chair the meeting.

There will be a report from Kent District Library, which receives support from the township.  In my case, $126 of the taxes we pay go there. The report provided in advance has some interesting details.  For example, ebooks and e-audiobook circulation rose by a factor of almost three from 2010 to 2011.  There were a total of 113,000 checkouts for electronic material. 47% of Grand Rapids Township’s residents have a library card, and most use the branches in Plainfield or Cascade Townships, or East Grand Rapids.

If you’ve not looked at what the library is doing recently, visit the KDL website.

Next is a public hearing on rezoning 1.8 acres of land at Forest Hills Avenue and Ada Drive.  The intent is  to allow commercial development of the property.  There is some information on this in the April 24 Planning Commission minutes. Action was deferred until the May 22 meeting, at which point it was apparently approved (although the minutes have not yet been posted almost two months later).  The neighbors who showed up were less then enthused about the project.  There will be a “public hearing” before the vote, although this will be a formality since the trustees, given past practice, are unlikely to respond to any objections at this meeting given the extensive consideration by the Planning Commission.

The trustees will next take up two ordinances discussed at the previous meeting — a signing ordinance and one to allow limited outdoor dining at township restaurants.  See my comments on the previous meeting for the details.

Trustee Bob Roth will summarize the state of township finances.  If precedent is any guide, this will be brief.

The meeting will conclude with a proposal to spend up to $12,000 on three computers and a server.

If you’ve never been to a meeting of the township trustees, consider showing up at 7:00 p.m. at the township hall.  The meeting will likely last the usual fifteen or twenty minutes.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Three Legal Notices in Sunday’s Cadence

The Cadence is required reading for anyone interested in Grand Rapids Township.  It’s often the only ready source of information.

It also carries the legal notices — which people often skip past.  In the July 7 Cadence, there are three of them.

On page 3, there is notice of two pending ordinances, one regarding outdoor signage, the second to allow limited outdoor dining at restaurant in the township.  I've mentioned both these ordinances in previous posts.  They ordinances are posted on the township web site, and will be approved at the July 17 township board meeting.

Page 6 has a notice on two public hearings to be held by the planning commission. Both would amend the zoning ordinance to allow desired work by Aquinas College.  These are scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on July 24.

The bulkiest item in on p. 7.  This announces a public hearing by the planning commission, also scheduled at 7:00 p.m. on July 24. This will allow for zoning changes in favor of a Spectrum Health project along the area adjacent to 2600 and 2700 East Beltline NE.  I’ve mentioned this in earlier postings.

The fact that all three public hearings are scheduled for the same time suggests that the planning commission is not expecting a large turnout.  If you live in the affected areas, however, you might want to attend to find out what is going to be happening.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Good News on Meijer Gardens

Jan Holst reports in the Cadence that Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park has received such enthusiastic community support that it is planning to begin work on the new Japanese garden almost immediately.  The original plan was to begin work early in 2013. This is excellent news.  Meijer Gardens is the single most prominent place in the township, with an international reputation.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Agenda Items for the July 3 Grand Rapids Township Trustee Meeting

One of the reasons I am running for township trustee is to improve the amount and quality of information available to township citizens.  As I’ve noted before, agendas often are posted just before meetings, and with very limited details.  Minutes can take quite a while to appear, and they are equally sketchy.  For example, the agenda for the July 3 meeting was just posted today (July 2).

Supervisor Mike DeVries kindly provided me with the packet of information board members receive, so let’s look at the agenda in more detail.

Item 4 on the agenda is “consider cash disbursements.”  This is a regular item.  For June 2012, the township disbursed a total of $171,126.80.  The biggest items include a transfer of nearly $28,400 to the Kent County Treasurer, to which a good share of the property tax revenues the township collects goes to.  An almost identical amount is to the local law firm of Mika Meyers Beckett & Jones.  I assume at least part of that is for legal fees relating to the township’s attempt to prevent electronic billboards, as well as for the legal work on items 8 and 9 below.

Item 5 is pending bills, $38,000 of those. The biggest item is about $14,700 to the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council, an umbrella group representing local government units in Allegan, Barry, Ottawa, Kent, Ionia, and Montcalm counties.  This is an organization I suspect few township residents have heard of.  Browsing its website is worth the time.

Item 6 is of particular interest to me: “Consider authorization to proceed with Revize LLC to update the Grand Rapids Township website.”  The proposal looks well worth the $2,700 cost.

Among other things, it provides for a better overall appearance, easier content updating and editing, automatic removal of outdated items, the ability to easily conduct on-line surveys, and better ways to organize and manage content.

These are excellent additions that deal with some — but not all — of the concerns I’ve raised.  The primary issue remaining is whether or not content is updated and maintained. A useful website depends on keeping the site current — something that could have been done even under the current site.

In short, this looks to be in the right direction, but it depends on putting more effort into the website than is currently done — and it should have been done years ago.

Item 7 is the purchase of a utility vehicle for $12,600.  This is a John Deere Gator that will be used to check bike paths, spray for bugs, maintain parks, etc.

Item 8 is the first reading of an “Amendment to sign provisions in Grand Rapids Township Zoning Ordinance.”  The ordinance will be voted on at the July 17 meeting.  This concerns placement of signs on exterior building walls  — not the electronic billboard issue that has recently been in the news.  This applies to building walls facing streets, and also five areas in which building walls face the I-96 expressway.  This is a rather complicated ordinance that gives the Planning Commission the right to approve such signs and lays out the guidelines.

Item 9 allows restaurants limited outdoor dining permission.  This is limited to seating for 12 patrons or fewer.  This looks like a good idea.  One of the pleasures of summer is eating outdoors.

Item 10 is “Consider authorization to proceed to bid the 3 Mile/Dunnigan Utility Extension project.”  This will permit building a water main and sanitary sewer line to serve the Spectrum Health facility.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Township Hall Available Free for Neighborhood Meetings

The township hall ordinarily rents for $100 or more.  However, neighborhood associations, condo annual meetings, and other such organizations may use it without charge.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ballot for the August 7 Primary

The ballot for the August 7 primary is now available for inspection on-line.  Mine looks like this:

Clicking on the image will bring up a larger version.

Yours may vary slightly.  Go to the Secretary of State page to pull up yours.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Summer Road Work in Grand Rapids Township

Jan Holst reports in Sunday’s Cadence that some major road repairs will soon be underway in Grand Rapids Township.  It’s not on the web site yet.

Roads involved include Four Mile Road from Dean Lake Avenue to the Beltline and Bird Avenue between Three and Four Mile Roads.  Both will be closed to traffic for extended periods of time.  Kenmoor Avenue, Woodward Lane, and several other streets will be upgraded.  See Holst’s article, which I assume will be on the Cadence web site before long.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

More on Electronic Billboards in Grand Rapids Township

Supervisor Michael Devries sent me a copy of the lawsuit filed by Hocul Advertising against Grand Rapids Township, which asks that the Township’s ordinance banning electronic billboards (and off-site advertising in general) be ruled unconstitutional. It makes interesting reading.

This is an issue currently being litigated around the country. Several states and many cities have banned them, or are considering a ban.  The usual result, as in Grand Rapids Township, is a lawsuit.  A by-now somewhat outdated article in USA Today from 2010 is an introduction to the issues.  A good recent report comes from the G.R. Law firm Mika, Meyers, Beckett and Jones.

These billboards can range from $200,000 to  $500,000 to erect, far more than traditional billboards.  However, they have all sorts of advantages to advertisers.  The content can be managed remotely.  I had a student a few years back who worked for a billboard company.  He could change the content from his dorm room.  Differential rates can be charged, higher  during prime commuting hours, lower at 3 a.m.  This allows companies to get far more revenue from the same space than is possible with traditional billboards — and advertisers like them because they can pay less for part-time advertising on digital billboards than for having exclusive placement on a traditional one.

However, these billboards are obtrusive (which, of course, is exactly why billboard companies want to erect them).  Day or night (and especially at night), they are hard to ignore. Their light pollution blots out the night sky. They distract drivers, particularly when not along expressways (two of the proposed billboards are along the Beltline, one on East Paris).  They consume a great deal of energy.

For a report on some of the unfortunate effects of electronic billboards, see a report titled Illuminating the Issues. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Six Electronic Proposed Billboards in G. R. Township

Hocul Advertising LLC is suing Grand Rapids Township because it will not grant permission to erect electronic billboards.  Under township ordinance off-site signs are not allowed.  Hocul Advertising had earlier filed suit in federal court, which ruled it did not have jurisdiction, so it has now filed suit in Kent County Circuit Court.

The company wants to erect six signs.  The addresses given in Jan Holst’s Cadence article are 4609 Cascade Rd., 660 Cascade West Parkway, 2300 and 2808 East Beltline NE, and 1000 and 1002 East Paris.  The East Paris billboards are close together, one facing I-96, the other East Paris.  Clicking on the map will pull up a larger version.

The court will have to determine the legality of the ban, but I hope it supports the township.  There are enough such billboards already.  They are obtrusive, which is exactly why Hocul wants them.  Day or night they blot the landscape.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Book on Township History

Back in 2000, Grand Rapids Township published a history of the township.  A few copies are left, and the township office will sell one of them to you for $15.  I recommend it.

It is not a great work of history — it is of the this happened, then that happened, school of history.  But it has a lot of information that will be of interest to those who live here.  Did you know, for example, that Grand Rapids Township is one of the oldest units of government in the State of Michigan?  It was founded in 1834, four years before the village of Grand Rapids.  Michigan became a state only in 1837.  

The township originally extended to the Grand River, but a series of annexations by the city kept reducing its size.  I’ll be posting tidbits from the book as time goes on — but I recommend stopping by the township hall to buy a copy.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Grand Rapids Township Park Survey

The township has a 205 acre piece of land between Leonard and Knapp Court that it hopes to develop as a park.  There is an information session at the township office today until 7:00 p.m., but all the information is available on the township web site and public comments can be made for at least another week.

This is a fine piece of property convenient to many residents — I recommend looking the material over and giving an opinion.

The township does a good job with its parks.  If you’ve not visited the existing park behind the township hall, take a look when convenient.  Whenever I’ve been by it is well used.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Six File for G. R. Township Board

Today is the deadline for filing for candidacy for the August 7 primary.

Besides the four existing trustees who want to continue in office, there are two challengers: I am one of them.

The other is Lindsey Koorndyk.  I don’t know much about Ms. Koorndyk.  She is 24 years old, a recent graduate of Michigan State, and engaged to be married four days after the election.  She comes from a political family; her father Dan Koorndyk is a Kent County Commissioner.  I do think running for township office is a great idea for someone like her, perhaps interested in a political career.  Running for the township board is relatively easy (it takes only 20 signatures to get on the ballot).  It can easily lead to other offices.  Current county commissioner Jim Saalfeld started out on the G.R. Township Board, for example.  I think former Congressman Vern Ehlers began as a county commissioner.

I’ll want to see what Ms. Koorndyk proposes to do if elected, but I will be inclined to support her if she has good ideas.

Looking for Friendly Yards....

If you live in Grand Rapids Township and are willing to support my campaign by putting a yard sign up in the weeks before the August 7 primary please let me know.  I will be delighted to deliver a sign when the time comes.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Randall Bytwerk for Grand Rapids Township Trustee

I’ve decided to run for Grand Rapids Township Trustee.  I’ve filed the nominating petitions for the Republican primary election on Tuesday, August 7, 2012.

 My campaign web site is not developed at the moment — but that will change..

My goals if elected will be to encourage better information to the citizens of the township about what is happening.  As I note in the last post, there is little information readily available to those who wish to follow township activities, and the board minutes are most unhelpful.  I will perhaps use this blog to provide more detailed information on what is happening.

Also, I'm a good public speaker.  Once I have been a trustee for six months or so, I will be able and willing to speak to community organizations, churches, and schools about what the township is and why it is relevant to them.

In the meanwhile, if you have questions and suggestions, please let me know.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Invisible Grand Rapids Township Government

I do wish Grand Rapids Township would do a better job of informing citizens of what it is doing.

Take board meetings, for example.  They tend to last about 15 minutes with limited discussion.  Since the documents are not posted anywhere for citizens to read, showing up doesn't help much.  I went to one meeting that a troop of Scouts attended.  I don’t think they left after 15 minutes with the idea that township government was very interesting.

Board minutes aren’t any help.  Take a look at any of the minutes posted.  They provide essentially no information on the issues in question.

And that is when the minutes are posted.  As I write, the latest posted minutes are from January 3.  There are agendas for meetings on January 17 and February 7, but no minutes.  The Planning Commission posts good minutes — when it bothers to do so.  Currently, the last minutes posted are for January 25, 2011.  There are agendas for three meetings after that, but who knows what happened?

The only source of information is often Jan Hulst, the Cadence correspondent, who publishes brief reports after most meetings.

Compare Grand Rapids Township with Cascade Township, for example, to see the differences in information available to citizens.  Cascade Township posts the details on issues in advance of meetings.

Or consider newsletters.  Cascade Township issues six a year.  Grand Rapids Township issues one a year — most years.  The last one on the Township web site is dated Winter 2010.

Is it asking too much for elected representatives to let voters know what is happening?

Monday, February 6, 2012

New G. R. Township Trustee

MLive has a peculiar story today (February 5, 2012).

I had applied for the opening on the Grand Rapids Township Board, as did five others.  When I saw the list, I immediately know the person named would be David Van Dyke, a person with some experience in township affairs.  Usually, the “winner” is the headline. 
The MLive, however,  headlines its story “Calvin College professors denied seats on East Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Township boards.”  My colleague James Sykes had applied for the open seat on the East Grand Rapids City Council.

Almost makes the think that not appointing me was more newsworthy than appointing David Van Dyke.

In any event, appropriate congratulations are in order for David Van Dyke.