GR commission term limits: New blood or a mistake?

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell in 24 Hour News 8's studio with Brian Sterling to talk about voters approving term limits for city leaders. (Nov. 5, 2014)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The face of the Grand Rapids City Commission is now guaranteed to change over the next two years – whether residents want it to or not.

Tuesday, voters narrowly approved a city charter amendment that brings term limits to the mayor and city commissioners.

And from the looks on the faces of Mayor George Heartwell and others at anti-term limit gatherings Tuesday night, it appeared they didn’t see it coming.

“It looks like at this point, the voters have spoken. They want term limits,” Heartwell told 24 Hour News 8. “I still believe that’s a mistake.”

Despite a campaign that tried to convince voters of the shortcomings of term limits – including highlighting what some consider to be the dysfunction a similar statewide vote in 1992 brought to Lansing – enough city voters decided fresh blood every eight years is a good thing for the city.

As of 2017, Heartwell and four of the six city commissioners will be term-limited out of office.

First Ward Commissioner Walt Gutowski, who is currently serving in his second term in office, is one of them.

“I feel, you know, quite honestly that I’m a better commissioner now than I was when I started,” he told 24 Hour News 8. “But again, it’s been a privilege to serve.”

>>Inside Proponents: GR term limits a ‘victory’


Wednesday, opponents of the term limits warned of some unintended consequences – like whether a slowdown in development in the city could occur.

Sam Cummings, a managing partner at CWD Real Estate Investments, didn’t mince when it came to his concerns.

“I almost feel like that it was run by some sensationalist and sort of was a solution looking for a problem,” he told 24 Hour News 8.

For 25 years, Cummings has had a hand in bringing millions of dollars in development to downtown Grand Rapids. When it comes to private projects that need public approval, he says scrutiny on the part of elected officials is critical – and so is their institutional knowledge.

“They know how to differentiate between what’s important and what are simply weeds,” Cummings said. They’re accountable and I’m accountable. They’ve been there a long time, they get to know me and they get to know whether I’m good, whether I’m worth my word or not.”

Still, Cummings said considers himself a glass-half-full kind of guy, and is hoping the new blood that term limits will bring to the commission won’t have to play the catch-up that concerns him.

“Time will tell, I guess,” he said.

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