KENT COUNTY, Mich. — — A letter sent to Governor Whitmer this week by leaders in West Michigan is asking her to partner with local communities as the state works to slow the spread of COVID-19 and restart the economy.
Kent County Board of Commissioners Chair Mandy Bolter says the letter she and Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss sent Whitmer on Thursday is not meant to criticize her, but to simply advocate for the region and let Whitmer know businesses and leaders can stay safe.
“We’re advocating on behalf of our region, in our city, in our county to say, ‘Hey, we’re over here, we’ve got some ideas. These things have really worked here our numbers,’” said Bolter. “We want to partner with you [ Whitmer ], we want to partner with the state, to come up with any and all ideas to try to move forward.”
Bliss was not available for an interview about the letter.
Bolter says, to the best of her knowledge, since the pandemic began the state has not asked for local communities’ input beyond local health departments.
The two-page letter starts by thanking Whitmer for her work during the pandemic and acknowledges the challenging decisions the state faces, but explains many local businesses are on the verge of collapsing.
It goes onto ask Whitmer to reconsider what can re-open and to partner with local communities on how to do so safely.
Bliss and Bolter exemplify the Kent County “Back-to-Work” program as a way innovation within local communities can help storefronts stay open.
Primarily-indoor businesses, like arenas, gyms, bowling alleys, and movie theaters, have been closed since March due to the state’s executive orders.
“You see the struggle, you hear from these business owners who are so frustrated because they see, you know, their contemporaries and other states modifying their business plans to do it safely and you just want to be their advocate,” said Bolter. “That’s what we’re trying to do, to the best of our ability.”
The letter cites case numbers and the county’s 2.1% mortality rate as an additional reason why local communities should have at least some input in the decision, arguing COVID-19 looks different in region to region.
According to Bolter, if businesses cannot move forward, the impact of multiple businesses closing permanently would be catastrophic.
“We need to transition into continuing to be able to function with different, new ideas because if you do shut down and you never do an a convention again and you never do a concert again, that will greatly devastate our local economy,” said Bolter.
She adds the collaborative approach could help businesses in the regions of the state.
“It’s our job as local elected officials to kind of make sure that what we’re seeing on the ground is conveyed and communicated up to our to our leaders,” said Bolter.
Gov. Whitmer’s office did not reply to requests for an interview or statement.
To read the full letter, click here.