Kent Thinks Task Force Is Winner

GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County is nominating the Emergency Needs Task Force for a prestigious award, one that could put the organization in the national spotlight and provide more funds for its continued operation.

Work was under way last week to submit the accomplishments of the 25-year-old task force for the Innovations in Government Award, sponsored by the Ash Institute at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. County Management Analyst Matthew VanZetten put the application together, which is due this week for next year’s award.

The Ash Institute honor recognizes creativity and excellence in the public sector. In addition to the recognition that accompanies the award, those chosen also receive $100,000. Kent County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio said if ENTF is named as a 2007 recipient, the money will be used to meet some of the goals set by the task force.

ENTF was started by the county in 1982 as a voluntary network of organizations that delivers a variety of services to those in need. The network consists of private, public, faith-based and philanthropic groups that coordinate various programs among multiple agencies and also create new initiatives.

Two of the enterprises the task force has undertaken have resulted in a food delivery system and a medical transportation system. Others have prevented utilities from being shut off for those behind in their payments and provided housing subsidies to the poor. ENTF also started a plan to eradicate homelessness and another to support housing development.

More than 100 organizations are part of the county’s ENTF.

Over 1,000 applications were submitted to the Ash Institute for the 2006 Innovations in Government Awards. Seven winners for the 2006 award were named in July from a short list of 18 finalists. Of the finalists, four were federal programs, six were from states, two from counties and four from municipalities.

“When you learn about the variety of programs, the range of problems they tackle and the creative ways they do it, it gives you a renewed confidence in the quality and commitment of our public servants,” said Stephen Goldsmith, Ash Institute director.

“By shining a bright light on these innovators, we hope to encourage others in government to follow their amazing lead,” said Goldsmith.

One Michigan program, the Land Bank of Genesee County, was among this year’s finalists, but wasn’t selected as one of the seven recipients. The Land Bank buys abandoned urban sites through foreclosures and then determines the best use for the properties, instead of selling the parcels to the highest bidder. The effort has led to affordable housing, cleaned up properties, rehabilitated homes and redeveloped sites in downtown areas throughout Genesee County.

County commissioners recently gave the green light for ENTF to apply for the award, a somewhat unusual move. Normally board members don’t vote on an award application. But because the Ash Institute award offers a monetary prize, county commissioners had to give their blessing to the application. In addition, the Ash Institute mandates that approval.

“They require governing board approval so they know the governing board is aware that they’ve applied for the award,” said Delabbio.

Kent County, the Department of Human Services and the Heart of West Michigan United Way provide funding to ENTF.   

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