Local and Michigan Headlines: West Michigan Ready for Wind Power Development; Recycling Improvements Proposed for Kent County

We missed yesterday, but here’s some recent Michigan headlines:

If we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

Kent County’s Air Quality Ranks Poorly in Study


Michigan–and Kent County–rank poorly in a new study of air pollution by the American Lung Association. The organization’s annual “State of the Air” report found that 60% of people in the United States live in areas with high levels of air pollution.

The American Lung Association warns that “breathing polluted air can seriously harm your health and even shorten your life.”


Ozone (O3) is an extremely reactive gas molecule composed of three oxygen atoms. It is the primary ingredient of smog air pollution and is very harmful to breathe. Ozone attacks lung tissue by reacting chemically with it.

  • Ozone Grade: F
  • Weighted Average: 12.2
  • Orange Ozone Days: 35
  • Red Ozone Days: 1
  • Purple Ozone Days: 0


Particle pollution refers to a mix of very tiny solid and liquid particles that are in the air we breathe. Its produced by either mechanical or chemical processes including burning fossil fuels in factories and power plants.

  • Grade: F
  • Weighted Average: 6.5
  • Orange Particle Days: 18
  • Red Particle Days: 1
  • Purple Particle Days: 0


  • Grade: Pass
  • Design Value 12.8


Air pollution disproportionately affects certain groups, whether they be people of color or children. In Kent County, there are many populations who are at an increased risk.

  • Pediatric Asthma: 14,936
  • Adult Asthma: 41,744
  • Chronic Bronchitis: 14,665
  • Emphysema: 6,880
  • Cardiovascular Disease: 151,982
  • Diabetes: 32,290
  • Total Population: 604,330
  • Population Under 18: 164,289
  • Population 65 & Over: 62,419

Overall, Michigan ranked poorly in the study. The Detroit/Warren/Flint area was in the top 10 worst cities for both pollution incidents over 24-hour periods and particle pollution. No cities in Michigan were listed among the cleanest cities.

Analysis: Military Continues to Rely on People of Color and Low and Middle Income to Fill Ranks

Disproportionate Number of African-American Recruits in Kent County in 2008

The National Priorities Project has released its annual analysis of Army recruiting, finding that in 2008 new recruits tend to be people of color, come from low to middle income families, and are growing increasingly younger.

In summarizing the findings, Jo Comerford of the National Priorities Project states, “Once again we are compelled to note the Army’s disproportionate reliance on young people, people of color and individuals from low- and middle-income families to fill its ranks.”

Summary of Recruiting Trends for 2008

The data–obtained by combining Census material with information obtained via the Freedom of Information Act–shows several striking things:

  • LOW- AND MIDDLE INCOME NEIGHBORHOODS CONTINUE TO BE OVERREPRESENTED. Active-duty Army recruits disproportionately come from low-to middle income neighborhoods. Neighborhood incomes in the lowest 10% of population were underrepresented, as were those in the top 20%.
  • THE AGE OF NEW RECRUITS FELL. Fifty-two percent of new recruits in 2008 were below the age of 21. This is up from 48.5% in 2007.
  • THE PERCENTAGE OF RECRUITS WHO ARE BLACK HAS RISEN SINCE 2005, INCREASING FROM 15% IN 2005 TO 16.6% IN 2008. The sharpest increase was between 2007 and 2008.

The National Priorities Project also expresses concern that with lower test scores, recruits of color will have limited opportunities in the Army.

Military Recruiting in West Michigan

One of the strengths of the National Priorities Project’s research is that it allows folks to look at the numbers in their own communities (see MediaMouse.org posts from 2006 and 2007).

Looking at the numbers for Kent County, we found that there were 146 active-duty Army recruits. This breaks down into the following categories:

  • 83.56% were White
  • 14.38% were Black

    2.05% were Asian or Pacific Islander

    1.37% were Hispanic

According to Census statistics for Kent County, African-Americans were over-represented in the Army when compared to their percentage of the total population.

Early Look at 2008 Army Recruiting Numbers for Michigan


The National Priorities Project has released the first half of its annual review of Army recruiting. The initial review looks at data by state, county, and zip code. It finds that the Army has once again missed its quality benchmarks:

“The Iraq War began to have an impact on recruiting in 2005 when the Army missed its goal for the number of recruits. Despite increases in spending on recruitment and advertising such as new arcade games designed to draw more youth into the Army, the Army has failed to meet its benchmark for the level of educational attainment of recruits for the fourth year in a row. The percentage of recruits with high school diplomas reported in early October by the Department of Defense was considerably greater than what the data actually show. This difference is due to the Army’s reporting on the number of “contracts” rather than the number of “accessions” with high school diplomas. Contracts are recorded at the time of sign-up, whereas accessions are those who actually enlist. Each year there are losses of individuals who, despite signing the contract, do not end up enlisting.”

As in previous years (2006, 2008), the data provides information specific to Michigan. The National Priorities Project reports that Michigan ranked 29th for Army Recruits Per Thousand Youth at 1.52 (down from 1.79 in 2006). However, Michigan did have the county with the second highest recruitment rate in the country–Luce County. Other counties including Arenec, Kalkaska, and Clare also ranked in the top 100.

Here in West Michigan, Kent County had 146 Active-Duty Army recruits and 25 Reserve Army recruits.

MediaMouse.org will have a more complete look at the numbers in the coming weeks when the National Priorities Project released information based on race and income.

Foreclosures Increased in Grand Rapids and Kent County over First Half of 2008

Foreclosures increased dramatically over 2007 levels in the first half of 2008 for Grand Rapids and Kent County.


Foreclosures continued to increase in Grand Rapids and Kent County over the first half of 2008 according to data released last week by the Community Research Institute.

The numbers–released as an update to the study “Sold Short: Residential Foreclosures in Kent County, 2004 to 2007“–show that foreclosures were up 38.2% in Grand Rapids from January 1 through June 30 of this year. Foreclosures increased 28.7% over the same period in Kent County.


In Grand Rapids, foreclosures increased in 23 out of 32 neighborhoods. The highest overall foreclosure rates in the city are on the southeast and west sides of town.

The Community Research Institute writes:

“The fact that the rates continue to increase or remain high is a sign that the foreclosure crisis remains a systemic problem in our local communities and one that will continue to require a coordinated systems response from local government, nonprofit organizations, foundations, neighborhood associations, and financial institutions.”

Study Examines Congregations in Kent County

A new study released yesterday examines congregations in Kent County and their various educational and social service programs. While it documents a lot of essential work that churches are doing, it largely ignores larger questions around what causes people to need social services in the first place.


A new study called “Gatherings of Hope” offers a detailed overview of religious congregations in West Michigan. The study was funded by the Douglas and Maria DeVos Foundation (Douglas is an heir to the Amway fortune of Richard DeVos ) and conducted by the Calvin College Center for Social Research.

The study is interesting on many levels, not only for what it says about religious demographics in West Michigan, but also about what some influential religious people see as the appropriate role for religion in society. The study focuses on educational and social services that exist in the community, as well as how congregations can expand programs to fill needs in the community. It advocates for increased presence in many facets of the community–including in the public schools–and outlines possibilities for churches to increase their activities. The report estimates that religious congregations provide over $95 million in social services.

Churches often provide many valuable services in their neighborhoods and often serve as essential anchors in their communities–and have an important place in many people’s lives. While our intent is not to diminish their contributions, it is worth pointing out that the report is silent on why so many children and families are “vulnerable” in the first place. There is no discussion of institutional racism, the underlying reasons for social inequality, why disparities in wealth and education exist, or any of the other systemic issues that play a role in creating poverty. Similarly, there is little discussion as to why social services are lacking and why churches have to be counted on to fill the gaps.

The executive summary outlines the major findings:

* Kent County is an unusually religious community. Compared to congregations across the country, Kent County residents are significantly more likely to attend religious services. Kent County congregations are larger in size, have more leaders, are better funded, and are more likely to have participated in or supported a social service program.

* Hundreds of congregations are located in areas of poverty and great need. Compared to majority White congregations, Black and Hispanic congregations in the county average three to four times the proportion of people with household incomes under $25,000.

* Local congregations transfer $75.6 million annually to denominations and to international, domestic and county aid and missions–but only 14 percent is clearly designated for Kent County.

* Worship services in Kent County take place in 28 different languages, reflecting cultural and ethnic diversity. At times multiple languages are spoken in the same congregation.

* Religious attendance is strongly associated with service to others. Almost 5,200 people from Kent County congregations–including paid staff and volunteers–participate in community service activities. Congregation leaders spend time worth $8.8 million annually on civic and social efforts.

* Congregations supply 2,827 volunteers for educational programs, but only a third of congregations report any involvement with public schools.

* Kent County congregations offer higher numbers of social service programs than comparable national averages–2,338 programs in all. Religious participation is not required by 70 percent of these programs.

* Other institutions would have to generate from $95 million to $118 million to replace the services and programs that Kent County congregations provide annually in their community-serving ministries.

West Michigan Elected Officials Database Updated

As part of our ongoing work maintaining the Progressive Directory of Western Michigan, we have updated our list of local elected officials. Following the most recent election, we had neglected to update the list. In the future, we hope to make additional improvements to enhance its usefulness by making it easier to identify who your elected officials are, adding the contact information for additional elected posts that receive little attention–such as Drain Commissioner, and adding descriptions of what lesser know officials do. We currently have contact information for the following positions:

As always, please contact us with any suggestions on how to make the database more useful.

372 Soldiers Recruited from Kent County in Fiscal Year 2005

Numbers are now available from the National Priorities Project detailing military recruitment in Kent County and Michigan. The numbers reveal that a disproportionate number of people of color are being recruited for military service on a national level.

In fiscal year 2005, the Army, Army Reserve, Navy, Air Force, and Marines recruited a total of 372 recruits from Kent County according to data compiled by the National Priorities Project. There were a total of 5,760 soldiers recruited in Michigan by the military. While detailed analyses examining the relationship between recruitment and race, income, and education are only available for the Army at this point from the National Priorities Project, the numbers show that the Army is continuing to recruit a disproportionate number of low income recruits and are recruiting an increased number of recruits who have not received a high school diploma. In order to target these populations, often with the promise of education and high enlistment bonuses, the military has a total recruiting budget that now exceeds $4 billion annually if one includes not only the more than $1.5 billion spent on advertising each year but also the maintenance of recruiting stations, the pay and benefits of more than 22,000 military recruiters, and enlistment bonuses.

In Kent County, the military has recruited 372 people. This includes 122 recruits enlisting in the Army, 36 in the Army Reserve, 69 in the Navy, 45 in the Air Force, and 100 in the Marines. While numbers looking at income levels are not available, numbers on race and military recruiting in Kent County reveal that in Kent County the proportions of people of color recruited into military service are generally consistent with the demographic number of 15 to 24 year olds in the county, with the exception being the Navy in which a disproportionate number of people of color are being recruited. In Kent County, population figures available from the National Priorities Project put the percentage of White youth at 85.7%, African-American 11.7%, and Latino 10.1% (numbers were not available for other races). While perhaps a somewhat tedious exercise, it is worth examining the percentage of recruits by race in Kent County for each branch of the military service. Among Army recruits, 90.2% were White, 7.4% were African-American, 1.6% were Asian/Pacific Islanders, 5.7% were Latino, and 0.8% were Native American. In the Air Force, 88.9% were white, 6.7% were African-American, and 4.4% reported two or more races. In the Navy, Native Americans accounted for 5.8% of recruits, African-Americans for 7.2%, Latinos 1.4%, Asian/Pacific Islander 4.3%, and White 82.6%. Marine recruits in Kent County were overwhelmingly White at 95%, African-Americans at 3%, Asian 1%, and Native American 1%.

In the entire state of Michigan there were a total of 5,760 recruits, with 2,224 recruited by the Army, 522 by the Army Reserve, 1,070 by the Navy, 579 by the Air Force, and 1,365 by the Marines. Again, looking at the numbers for race and recruitment into each branch of the military is a useful exercise. 12.3% of Army recruits were African-American, 85.8% were White, 1.3% were Asian/Pacific Islander, 3.1% were Latino, and 0.6% were Native American. In the Army Reserve, 15.7% were African-American, 81.6% were White, 1.7% were Asian/Pacific Islander, 4.4% were Latino, and 0.9% were Native American. 16.2%, of Navy recruits were African-American, 72.4% were White, 3% were Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 4.8% were Latino. Among Air Force recruits, 12.3% were African-American, 0.7% were Native American, 4% were Latino, 1% were Asian, and 84.6% were White. Numbers examining race and recruitment for the Marines in Michigan are less than useful, as 41% of recruits did not respond to questions about their race. When looking at national numbers, youth of color are significantly overrepresented in all branches of the military for which the National Priorities Project has statistics. In all branches except the Marines African-Americans were over represented, while in all branches except for the Army Whites were significantly under represented compared to their share of the population. Both in Michigan and around the country rural counties are among the top counties for recruits per 1,000 youth, with Ogemaw, Gogebic, and Alcona counties in Michigan ranking within top 100 counties for Army recruits. Among the top 100 counties by number of Army recruits, five Michigan counties–Wayne, Oakland, Kent, Genesee, and Macomb–are ranked, with Wayne County having the 16th highest number of Army recruits in the country. In Michigan, only 74.3% of Army recruits had a high school diploma, down from 85.1% last year and slightly better than the overall percentage of 73.1%.

2006 Primary Election Results

Election results for a variety of local and state races.

Full results for yesterday’s primary election are available elsewhere but here is a sampling of results in races covered by Media Mouse over the past month:

  • 17th Circuit Court Judge – Helen Brinkman received 26,129 votes and Mark Trusock receive 19,711, and as such the two will run in the fall.
  • 14th District Kent County Commissioner – Republican Eric Schmidt defeated Holly Marie Zuidema to advance to the fall primary.

  • 16th District Kent County Commissioner – Incumbent Paul Mayhue won with 547 votes. Challengers Jim Talen and Robert “S” Womack had 521 and 381 votes respectively.

  • 75th District Michigan House of Representatives – Republican Tim Doyle received 3,356 votes while Christian Meyer and Sue Devries received 3,188 and 603 respectively. Doyle will face Democrat Robert Dean in the November election.

  • 28th District Michigan Senate – Republican Mark Jansen defeated three other Republicans to advance to the November election.


  • An amendment to Grand Rapids’ Charter reducing the number of City Commission meetings each month was approved by a vote of 13,419 to 4,868.
  • The Kent County Senior Millage—a millage renewal and increase to provide services for senior citizens living in the county—passed with 51,296 votes in favor and 18,011 opposed.

Candidates Debate at 16th District Forum

Democratic candidates Robert “S” Womack and Jim Talen, both of whom are running for the 16th District Kent County Commission seat, debated tonight at Divine Grace Ministries.

Tonight, the last night before tomorrow’s primary election, a candidate forum for the Kent County Commission’s 16th District seat (view a map) was held at Divine Grace Ministries. The hour-long forum, featuring Democratic candidates Jim Talen and Robert “S” Womack, provided an overview of the two candidates positions on a variety of issues and provided a useful counter to the corporate media’s coverage of the 16th District Commission race. The corporate media—none of whom attended the forum—have provided coverage of disputes between incumbent Commissioner Paul Mayhue and challenger Robert “S” Womack, a radio talk show host whom Mayhue has accused of violating Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations on candidate airtime (ex: 1, 2, and 3). Commissioner Mayhue did not participate in the forum.

In keeping with our effort to provide as much information on the candidates’ positions as we can, a summary of the forum follows:

Question: Why are you running for office?
Jim Talen (JT): He said that this is not his first foray into electoral politics and that he got in because he thought he had unique skills and experience through his work in neighborhood organizing with East Hills and Eastown as well as in his experience at Baxter Community Center. He previously served 8 terms on the Kent County Commission during which he felt his focus on justice issues and improving services were his strong areas.
Robert “S” Womack (RSW): He is running at the request of people in the community who have called his show and asked that he enter electoral politics. He wants to work on Senior Meals on Wheels as well as the issue of rehabilitation at the Kent County Jail. He wants to reduce the number of repeat offenders and the long-term jail population through rehabilitation and making sure that programs such as Honor Camp and Work Release are available equally to inmates. He also would look at the possibility of creating a mental health court as another jail reform.
Q: How can you influence budgetary policy in order to improve the 16th District?
RSW: The county spends $100 million on corrections but people come back to the jail on average four or six times. A considerable amount of money is being wasted as the jail is being run like a prison with people waiting over a year for trial instead of the 30 days outlined in the jail’s mission.
JT: The jail is overseen by the Kent County Sheriff—an elected post—and as such the Commission does not oversee policy but does do the budgeting. As such, Talen said that a commissioner can use their seat as a bully pulpit to raise the issue. Talen said that people can be prevented from going to jail by providing services, which he worked on and shared that he got $500,000 put into prevention after telling law enforcement that he would not vote for more law enforcement funding without money for prevention.
Q: What is your strategy to build an effective political apparatus in the 16th District to get your policies implemented?
JT: A big issue is communication and to that end he would send out a newsletter via print and email, go to neighborhood association meetings, and go door-to-door even after the election is over.
RSW: He looks at the Constitution and the separation of powers and sees that the commission does have power over the sheriff. He explained that some Democrats on the commission have almost given up because of the dominance of Republicans on the commission but he explained that he would pursue a policy of achieveing consensus and cited his work getting the City Commission to vote 9-0 in favor of the Martin Luther King Boulevard designation and the Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Board 7-0 vote for community input in the superintendent hiring process.
Q: In light of the fact that neither answered the question, how can you build an effective party apparatus to get initiatives through?
JT: He tried to answer and said that his talk of communication was key as the community has to know what is going on. In the past he has worked to get more precinct delegates and captains, but he is not convinced that the way to make change on the commission is through partisan politics. He said it is more important to build relationships as issues tend to be less partisan and deal more with a divide between urban and rural policy.
RSW: He would continue to do the things that he has already done such as reaching out to progressives and young liberals to get them on board. He will not be happy with just maintaining his seat but he wants to get more Democrats on the commission. He believes that many progressive initiatives can and have been pushed through even with Republican dominance and argued that there has been a lack of dialog between previous 16th District commissioners and the community.
Q: With the 16th District’s growing Spanish speaking population, stable African-American population, and young white entrepreneurs, why would you be a good representative of this community?
RSW: He was born and raised in inner city Grand Rapids but also spent time in inner city Chicago, the Bronx, and East Grand Rapids as a foster child. He would focus representing the youth and would work to get youth onto the commission and get elders to move towards higher offices. He pointed out that his two Democratic challengers are old at 53.
JT: He said that he is not that old. It is a challenge to represent a diverse district in terms of race and class but he has always lived within blocks of the 16th District and feels that he has “unusual gifts” that allow him to represent diversity. He said that he feels he has always lived, worked, and worshipped in diverse areas by choice and that this experience would help him in his work as commissioner.
Q: How can the 16th District Commissioner work with the City Commission to improve the 16th District?
JT: He looks forward to working on this question and has experience working with and relationships with many City Commissioners. He said that there used to be monthly meetings between City and County Commissioners when he was on the Commission and he would like to bring those back.
RSW: Pools have been closed because of budget deficits in the city and the county has responded to the influx of urban youth into Millennium Park by instituting fees. He would like to make county parks more accessible and would also like to make county jobs more accessible for urban youth as a means of preventing crime.
Q: What would you do to bring down re-incarceration rates?
RSW: He is running on a platform of rehabilitation and pointed out that many first-time offenders are not getting into work release. He described some demographics in the jail—20% in for disorderly conduct, 16% for traffic offenses, and 3% for robbery. He said that there is a youth initiative program now and 90% of people going through the program are not re-entering the jail but it is not well advertised to inmates. The jail is over capacity 65 days out of the year.
JT: He continues to support alternative sentencing for nonviolent crimes and believes that the best way to address the issue is by spending money on programs for youth and young parents. He said that this spending saves later on and cited how every dollar spent on Healthy Start saves ten that could be spent in jails.
Q: With the airport expanding, would you support more diversity in hiring for county projects?
JT: He would like to make contracting better for minorities – county has not done enough on this. He said that the county is doing alright with representative for its own employees but management representation needs work.
RSW: He said that when you look at the committee overseeing the airport it talks a lot about security and employee benefits, but never discusses diversity. He said that diversity rarely comes up as he has been reading through commission documents over the past two years. He would vote to improve the airport but would like support on diversity.
Q: Have you received much feedback when going door-to-door on problems with Friend of the Court? If so, how would you reform it?
RSW: Friend of the Court is ultimately overseen by the commission and he believes it is a necessary in that it helps mothers obtain child support money. He said there are currently problems with the Friend of the Court taking driver’s licenses from men that need them to be able to work to pay child support.
JT: He hears of a lot of problems and while it is under the court and that budget goes through the commission, commissioners cannot tell the court how to administer the program. However, they can use their position as a bully pulpit, although he believes the best way to reform it is by building relationships.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Senior Millage?
JT: He was on the board of Area Agency on Aging of West Michigan and the commission when this first passed and he enthusiastically supports more funding.
RSW: He has been pushing for this since last year and with it more seniors can stay in homes, can be educated about programs, and fed via senior meals. He would like to see all commission candidates advocating for this as they run.
Q: The county generally runs a large budget surplus – is this too high and what would you do with the surplus?
RSW: There is a need for a rainy day fund and he applauds the commission for being fiscally responsible. However, he does not believe that the county should charge for Millennium Park and that there should be county funded green spaces within the city.
JT: The county had a $76 million surplus last year, with $35 million for a rainy day fund and $26 million beyond that. This extra money is not needed to maintain a positive bond rating and he believes it is time to talk to the community about how this money should be spent.
Q: The large surplus means considerable interest money – how does this get back to citizens?
JT: There is a discretionary fund where the Department of Human Services decides how to spend it. The general fund dollars are spent on a variety of programs.
RSW: Incumbent and previous commissioners have not talked to the community and developed innovative programs that have inspired the commission to provide bipartisan funding out of the surplus. He said it is a failure on behalf of the commissioners that people are asking what the Commission can do for you – it should be known and promoted.
Q: The county has not been part of a City Commission GRPS liaison board, how would you work to build that relationship?
RSW: The public schools are attacked via No Child Left Behind and vouchers (Talen’s kids when to Christian schools) and he would personally volunteer for this position to help the schools. He also would work to promote the county’s varied vocational programs within the district.
JT: He is willing and enthusiastic about working on this and while some county commissioners might not be willing to officially participate in this, he would work on it informally.