By: Charlotte Sumney, Chairperson
Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners

March 12, 1998

Good morning to each of you!

I am thrilled to be with you this morning representing Kalamazoo County Government. Many of you know, my early mornings consist of rounds made to the coffee shops to chit chat and learn what's going on. Usually though, these morning ventures don't have me chatting with quite so many at one time.

I want to thank the Greater Kalamazoo Association of Realtors and the good folks at l-Serve for sponsoring our get together. These two fine organizations and each of you have provided me the opportunity to highlight Kalamazoo County Government and to provide several thoughts on our community as a whole.

I'm most comfortable and effective dealing with issues behind the scenes. That changed this past month when, after the County Board was without leadership for a brief two week period, Eva Ozier and I were elected as the County Board's Vice Chairman and Chairman.

Since the two of us are not only the most senior commissioners but also the oldest, Wes congratulated the two of us as the "Oldies but Goodies" Eva and I owe special thanks to our fellow Board members David Buskirk, Judy Todd Johnson, Mary Powers, Larry Provancher, Lorence Wenke and Ray Wilson for keeping the County Board on track and together.

I want you to know that the togetherness is real. We are all friends; and while we may disagree on some issues, the disagreements are few and far between. For the past three years, the County Board has been effective and cohesive. That will continue. I sense a strong spirit of cooperation and desire among our

Board members to get things done. We're not flashy, but we have guided County Government down a solid path of providing important successful and cost efficient services to our citizens, and we will continue that guidance.

At the same time, I believe you will find that as a Board we will continue to support the need for community consensus, to offer as many resources as we can to that end, to support initiatives where collaboration can make a difference, and to support the advancement of our community through economic development and growth.

For me? Well, I will still do my chatting and behind the scenes work; but as Board Chair, I give you my assurances that Kalamazoo County Government will continue its progressive direction which will favorably impact every citizen in Kalamazoo County and many in southwest Michigan.

Most everyone knows that Kalamazoo County has been around since 1831. Over the years it has changed. Several years ago, as a young farm girl, horses were our automobiles and hitching posts were our parking meters. Since then many changes have occurred, but one remained constant. County Government now as then' is a creature of the State of Michigan.

Unlike our cities, County Government is not chartered and for the most part the Michigan Constitution and thousands of statutes, along with reams and volumes of case law, dictate to a large extent County Government's responsibilities.

Partly in spite of that and partly because of that, Kalamazoo County is an excellent service provider of Law Enforcement, Justice, Human Services, and a variety of other County services within its $82.5 million budget. These services touch virtually everyone's life in Kalamazoo County and many in southwest Michigan. Our visit to the Radisson this morning depends on County services.

I believe in Kalamazoo County Government because of its elected and appointed officials and, importantly, the staff which supports them. There are 15 judges, 5 elected officials, 17 appointed officials, and the 950 employees who work with them. They all diligently provide direct and indirect services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

It is important to enumerate a few examples of the issues your County Board has dealt with over the past three years:

1. The Board has advanced Strategic Planning and added strength to key areas of County operations.

2. The Board- is strongly devoted to economic development as a policy issue and in a million dollar plus partnership with the Chamber has strengthened the promotion of Kalamazoo County.

In addition, the County is a strong partner in the CEO Council and Business Development Bureau. It also partners with seven economic development districts which capture over $300,000 annually in County property taxes for infrastructure improvements.

3. The Board has brought fiscal soundness to County Government and provided a $1.4 million dollar property tax cut.

4. The Board has contracted for management audits in the courts, the Prosecutor's Office, the Sheriff's Department with others being planned.

5. The Board continued its emphasis on a variety of environmental issues including:

Waste reduction in County Government and throughout the County of Kalamazoo. I'm pleased to announce that in 1997, nearly half of the non-papermill waste stream was recycled. That means over 204,000 tons of waste is being diverted from area landfills. Congratulations go to our citizens, government, schools, and our business and industry leaders.

With the efforts of over 1,600 citizens, the County's Household Hazardous Waste Program removed over 78,000 pounds of dangerous products from homes and diverted them away from potential ground contamination.

6. The Board has created new services for the County's 21,000 veterans and has added coordination of services to the County's nearly 40,000 elderly population.

7. The County Board, with the support of the Portage City Council, the Kalamazoo City Commission and the seven District Court judges, provided the consolidation of the three District Courts.

These are just a few examples we as a Board have worked on, and there are others coming down the road this year and into the future. For example:

The County Law Enforcement Millage is up for renewal this August. The Board will be asking for a renewal which is less than that approved in 1980, 1986 and 1992.

Unlike District Court consolidation, the merger of the Juvenile Court into the Circuit Court happened very quickly. It was a result of State legislation. My compliments to Judge Phillip Schaefer and Judge Carolyn Williams for all of their effort and that of their colleagues and Court staff.

The County's various criminal justice facilities which presently consist of 350,000 square feet in six major buildings. Tom Edmonds often refers to central booking and arraignment which, if surrounded by the District Courts, could bring greater overall efficiencies to the Law Enforcement and Justice System. This issue is one the County Board is dealing with, hopefully in conjunction and cooperation with other units of government.

Before I talk about the community I want to give you some thoughts on Intergovernmental Cooperation.

County Government has well over 100 current and ongoing agreements and ventures with just about everyone one of the other 24 units, along with a number of the schools, the State, and the Kalamazoo Public Library.

We also have numerous joint ventures with the business community.

I want to talk about one which involves a government/business partnership.

In 1982, a group of businessmen were appointed as a Retirement Investment Committee to provide oversight to the City of Kalamazoo's Pension assets. Soon thereafter, a restructuring of asset management took place. Five years later, with the County monitoring the process, it, too, adopted the same Committee for the identical reasons. At the time the two restructurings took place, the combined City and County assets were about $60 million dollars at market value.

Today, 15 and 10 years later respectively, the combined assets at market are over $400 million dollars as a result of 15.6% and 14.2% average annual asset management performance. That performance is net of costs.

I can't tell you how important this has been to the cost structure of each unit and to the active and retired members of each system. John Nelson, Jake Miller, Darrell Jones, Don Molihagen, Chris Ruppel, Jan VanDerKley, Randy Eberts, Chuck Elliott and many other fine business people formerly on the Committee deserve a huge thanks. The fact that the two units participate together with the same business members also speaks highly of shared resources - in this case, the exemplary actions and knowledge of these fine individuals.

Public/Private efforts can and do work effectively. As you will hear a bit later, it's a necessary combination for the successful future of Kalamazoo County.

But first, with some help from a USA Today article - let's travel to Wilton, Maine for just a moment.

George Bass began peddling boots to lumberjacks in 1876 in a three story red brick building on Wilson Creek. The business grew to national acclaim. However, over a period of years, the business gradually succumbed to decades of off-shore low wage competition. Wilton's insular world was invaded by the unpleasantries of macro economics which will see 10% of its population suddenly without decades-long jobs at the Bass operations and where the Town of Wilton will see 7.5% of its tax base eroded.

The death of distance has led to globalization. That and macro economics has and will continue to encumber Kalamazoo County with the pressure for all of us to do things differently. The impact is not only measured in terms of employment and tax base but in terms of leadership as well. High level and important corporate leaders have always benefited our community and with each new announcement, whether it is the shutdown of GM, the merger of Upjohn into Pharmacia & Upjohn, the First of America sale to National City, or many others, more and more leadership attrition take place.

There are three lessons from this:

First, all of us know we have our work cut out in terms of the need to come together to advance our community's state of economic health. But, on the way, let's not forget the hundreds if not thousands of reasons that make the Kalamazoo community and southwest Michigan such a wonderful place to live.

Second, while leadership erosion has taken place, attrition of any precious human resource is a natural occurs. Leadership is evolutionary and the changing generations will continue to produce wonderful community leaders.

Third, from an economic development perspective, we've had some great successes, but in light of our overall position, we need to think long term, and we need to believe that ultimate success can only come with a change in the way we do business.

It is great to read and listen to all the things our community has to offer. Perhaps it because we are all so proud of our community that it makes us feel so good. I can recall the ads last fall in the Gazette focusing on the 75 reasons why Kalamazoo County is a great place to live and do business. What a collection! And that was just a start. Everyone here today and all across our County should be proud. We have to think highly of our community and all it has to offer.

We must NEVER lose sight of the wonderful natural, human, educational and cultural assets that make our Kalamazoo County Community Balance Sheet a world leader!

Yes, globalization does impact community leadership. But, on our balance sheet, allow me to tally up our community leadership:

Start the list with our four college presidents
Talk about excellent leadership!

How about our nine K-12 superintendents?
And the leaders of our private schools?
We should all be proud of them.

We have two excellent health care CEO's
and Boards led by superb community leaders.

How many private non profit organizations do we have?
I'm not sure,
but we could put a list of well over a 100 together
and each is guided
by an extremely capable community leader
who is surrounded
by boards with more community leaders as members.

What about four of our village presidents,
our many township supervisors,
our four city mayors and their elected colleagues
and our many public administrators?

How fortunate we are to have
so many foundations in the community
.What a difference their leadership makes!

Look at the leadership in our great variety of service clubs!
Indeed, their memberships are full of community leaders!

With certainty, Kalamazoo County is extremely fortunate for the business and corporate community where leadership abounds.

I know I've missed some, and I apologize. But, are we fortunate or not? say yes, and hope each of you agree!

In the past two weeks, there have been announcements by the Governor on Dana Corporation and by the Portage City Council on their second triple hit development plans. These were both exciting and a refreshing change in the not so rosy picture which had been drawn over the past six months.

Many people including Larry Mankin, Marilyn Schlack, Ed Woodhams, Dean Holub and the State Jobs Commission were responsible for Dana and deserve all of our thanks. Portage City Mayor Gary Brown and his colleagues on the Council along with Mike Stampfler and his staff should be thanked by all of us for their leadership and positive impact on the broader community.

Elsewhere, of course, are the good deeds of Don Flanders and the Village of Vicksburg regarding its Downtown improvements and the Leja Business Park. Don Watts and Jeff Balkema are on their way toward establishing the Comstock Business Park.

Certainly, I compliment Mayor Jones and his Commission along with Manager DiGiovanni the Arboretum, their Downtown plans, and on their Brownfield Redevelopment initiative.

My husband, Suds, and I are both big supporters of WMU. It goes without saying that we are all proud of the accomplishments, growth and stability by which Deither Haenicke has benefited our community. What economic strength Western brings!

However, all of these positives are a snapshot in time.

We can't afford to stand back and hope that the future gets better. We need to change our ways and think very long term!

It boils down to just one thing - being smarter as a community, being better as an economic development area, and being strategically more competitive!

So, while I'm adamant on the great things that set our community apart from others, and while I disagree that there exists an absence of leadership, we have to find a way to take these abundant assets which form our fabric and weave them into action to make us a competing entity in world economics.

How? Of course it's not so simple.


Over the years I've kept track of expressions of others to outline change. In so many words, they go like this:

First, we have to think that we have the power to change.

Powerlessness is a state of mind -- if we think we have the power to change -- then we can!

Second, the problem with change is that it is uncomfortable.

So, let's get uncomfortable!

Third, playing it safe is dangerous

But, progress these days arises from doing things differently!

Fourth, challenge the rules of how we do business, break them and watch the community win with change!

Six, don't model and replicate.

Learning, yes, but we have to create our own future!

The majority of you are convinced that significant change in the way we do business is critical to allow the Kalamazoo Community to grow and compete with the world using the array of community assets and leadership we have. Our old ways have only partially worked and some would say none of it has worked.

But, even Partial IS NOT good enough! Our world credentials suggest something greater.

In the technology environment, anything coming in is already on its way out. We need to adjust, set a course and get everyone we can on board. In order to do that, the absolute key to community leadership is attitude, trust and confidence in one another.

Particularly, the governmental leaders have got to come to realize this.

Patience is no longer a good enough reason to avoid coming to grips with our differences. I agree with Mayor Brown that rivalries and personal politics often keep us from reaching our potential. We need to surround ourselves with a new way of doing business as a development entity and go after it as a community.

Arising out of the response to the Pharmacia and Upjohn decision and the two public meetings at Portage City Hall last fall, there was a definite consensus that major change had to occur. Since then, a smaller group of public and business individuals has been working to identify potential areas of change.

I hope their results come soon.

I hope what they come up with is both threatening and uncomfortable.

I hope it will be something that has the ability to change our game plan.

And, I hope it WILL challenge our status quo, break the rules we have been used to, and will not be a borrowed model!

I sincerely hope that it is big, broad, and has a number of major proposed changes which our community will have to carefully explore, be able to support, and which will take us off the shelf and get our community into high gear.

Make it hot. Make it a public/private effort. Let it be shot at and let it be politically unsettling. Make it a concept which if endorsed can and will bring the entire Kalamazoo Community to a new level of economic growth recognition equal to or exceeding Kent/Ottawa, Battle Creek and many other localities we look to as examples of HAVING THEIR ACT TOGETHER!

Southwest Michigan is an important economic entity. Kalamazoo County is its strength. Yet there is a long arduous way to go to make our community a recognized leader in economic growth we all envision. It will be difficult but with perseverance, trust and confidence it can occur. We just don't have any other longer term and permanent options! Our abundance of assets together with a new game plan that most everyone can surround WILL lead our community to be the world class competitor that we are capable of being.

Thanks to each of you for allowing me to present my views on our Kalamazoo County Community. I love Kalamazoo County. I love our strong balance sheet and particularly, I love the people in our Community and would not trade it for anything or anyplace else in the world!