City commission counts strategic successes


The Grand Rapids City Commission last week heard a fiscal year 2020 performance management progress report highlighting recent successes in the strategic plan’s six priority areas: government excellence, economic prosperity and affordability, engaged and connected community, health and environment, mobility and safe community.

City Manager Mark Washington said the presentation would be the first in a series of discussions about the city’s future.

“What we adopted was a plan that would be accomplished over a series of years, four years,” Washington said. “We can’t accomplish it all at once. I wish we could.”

The city adopted the four-year strategic plan, which covers FY2020 to FY2023, in April. The plan was intended to align with the city’s long-term master plan and drive budget and fiscal planning.

The presentation highlighted the work city departments already have accomplished in the first quarter of the fiscal year.

“You can see, based on strategic priorities, how we’ve been deliberate about equity and accomplishments this commission has helped just in this quarter,” Washington said.

In the first quarter of FY2020, which began July 1, the city passed a new human rights ordinance, which includes provisions to reduce biased crime reporting along with updates to better protect the rights of all residents.

The city also continued implementation of projects related to the Third Ward Equitable Development Fund, including façade improvement programs and raising lead awareness by partnering with Kent County and local businesses Well Design Studio and Ingalls Pictures to launch a public awareness campaign.

The city also received $300,000 from the Kellogg Equitable Grand River Restoration grant.

Equity has been a key theme surrounding early conversations of the plan, according to previous Business Journal reports. The plan pointed to several negative rankings the city has received on racial equity, including an infamous 2015 Forbes article declaring Grand Rapids No. 52 out of the 53 largest metros in the U.S. in terms of economic mobility for African Americans.

The report included other accomplishments based on the strategic plan’s six priority areas.

Government excellence

The city received $8.6 million in grant funding for city projects and initiatives in the first quarter and also increased financial transparency on capital projects and budgeting using open data tools through software company Socrata.

The city also hired 62 new employees, including a city engineer, assistant city attorney, deputy city attorney, police chief, interim director of office of oversight and public accountability, and city assessor.

Economic prosperity and affordability

In the first quarter, the city approved a brownfield development agreement for the $83 million Grand Rapids Innovation Park, partnered with The Right Place and Michigan Economic Development Corp. to attract global insurance company Acrisure to the Studio Park development downtown and worked with Spectrum Health on its decision to build a Center for Transformation and Innovation in the Monroe North district.

The city also developed and implemented a process regarding separation distance from public parks for proposed medical marijuana facilities.

Engaged and connected community

City staff created a community-led task force on elected representation to evaluate issues related to elections and city commission representation. The city also hired a census coordinator and ambassadors to help make sure everyone is counted in the 2020 census.

Health and environment

In addition to the city/county lead awareness campaign, city staff also launched a partnership between Seamless, Start Garden and GVSU to use air quality data to produce a solution that can be used by residents to determine pollution levels that could impact health.

Four of six rounds of PFAS testing were completed and three of four tests were completed with nondetect results in the first quarter, as well.


Mobile GR and Parking Services staff launched an autonomous and electric vehicle pilot with May Mobility in August. Through July 2020, the initiative aims to prove civic infrastructure and operational capabilities of the growing autonomous vehicle market.

The department also set monthly parking rates and opened 300 city-managed parking spaces at the new Studio Park development.

Safe community

The Grand Rapids Police Department hired a new police chief, Eric Payne, in July. The department also hired a deputy police chief, five new officers and promoted 10 officers in the first quarter.

The city also created the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability and hired an interim director, as well as implemented a policy guiding police interaction with foreign nationals.

Alison Waske Sutter, the city’s sustainability and performance management officer, said staff spent the first half of FY2020 establishing department alignment around the strategic plan, identifying data sources for metrics, establishing an online dashboard for key metrics, building a reporting framework and refining the process for ensuring the budget aligns with the strategic plan.

“It does take some time to put new infrastructure in place, and this is something that staff and departments have been working at really hard,” Sutter said. “I appreciate a lot of the partnerships, particularly with the budget office and the work we’re doing to try to make some alignment between the budget and the strategic plan, as well as many of the other departments.”

Sutter said the second half of FY2020 would be spent refining business plan alignment, modifying metrics, refining the reporting framework and process, and establishing FY2021 priorities so the city commission could adopt a budget aligned with the strategic plan.

Sutter added staff would provide real-time performance monitoring and reporting on an online dashboard, continue to refine and align the strategic plan-budget process and improve efficiencies through data and systems integration.

The plan also calls for a mid-November workshop so the city commission can start planning for FY2021. The workshop will include a budget forecast, discussions on FY2021 priorities and key metrics recommended for an online dashboard and prospective FY2020 midyear budget adjustments.

The workshop is set for 1:30-4:30 p.m. Nov. 18 in the ninth-floor Commission Chambers at City Hall, 300 Monroe Ave. NW.

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