Nannies or Leeches?

     I’m going to be politically incorrect again and suggest that we are at the time where we need to be less complacent and begin to ask the necessary questions to protect our future. The question I want to ask today is are the agencies operating in and around our society nannies to take care of us whether we like it or not, or are they leeches seeking to enrich themselves at our expense?

     The agencies in question today are the IRRRB, SEH, IEDC, GREDA, and our local governments themselves.

     The IRRRB (Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board) requires all government units under its area of interest to maintain current comprehensive plans to be eligible for grants. We should all realize by now that these grants aren’t provided by money from some mysterious benefactor. Although individuals and companies can certainly contribute, it is tax money (our tax money) which makes most of these grants possible. We are essentially being taxed so that we can receive grants from ourselves as a reward for following the rules set for us by people who are paid by siphoning off of our productivity.

     Comprehensive plans are one of the best means that they have  to trick us into spending money on them. We are told that we need these comprehensive plans to prepare ourselves for the future, and for necessary future projects. Let’s look at how these comprehensive plans actually work against our interests and enrich those agencies listed above.

     The comprehensive plans are sold as necessary by the IRRRB. There is some confusion as to whether or not they are necessary by statute, but in reality they are merely recommended, or allowed, for us by the state.

     Once we agree to do the comprehensive plan, we are told to use what is sold as a local engineering firm, SEH, to manage and moderate these meetings. There are three big problems with this, though. First, although SEH has a local office and is portrayed as a local firm, it is a large engineering company with a vested interest in getting the maximum number of projects approved so that it can put our money in its own pockets. Where are the local “occupy” protesters who were so visible a couple of years ago now? Second, having the same firm which profits from the recommended projects manage the very meetings in which the projects are recommended should stand out as the most obvious type of conflict of interest possible. Yet we allow this on a regular basis, simply because our local spin artists repeatedly tell us that it is the best way to do it. Do we even know how much these spin artists are profiting themselves? Third, and quite possibly worst, is the fact that both the City of Grand Rapids and Itasca County have in their employ a number of ex-SEH employees. How much have these individuals benefited by leaving SEH to work in the local government’s employ, then ensuring that their former employer gets virtually unlimited access to that government’s contracts? This whole set up is full of conflicts of interest, and possibly, if we look deeper, legal violations such as potential violations of the anti-trust laws, and maybe even a little bribery.

     Those of us who have been at these meetings to discuss or update the comprehensive plans have all noted how the managers of the meetings, usually SEH employees or those influenced by them, steer the conversations away from some of the subjects and ideas which we would like to discuss, and stress that we MUST talk about future projects, even if they appear to be completely unnecessary. They skillfully cause us to agree that many of these projects would be really nice, particularly such things as trails, park benches, and the other “green” projects. What they do not tell us is that even though we never were serious about the need for these projects, or though we do not really want to spend our money on them, they will not do exactly as they promised. Instead of just including these expensive projects in the plan as possible future considerations, these projects will be presented as “the desire of the people,” and will be used in the near future as mandates for spending. Much of this spending will go, of course, to SEH, who will very likely get the engineering contract with no bid required. Again, how much are local officials who are ex-SEH employees getting to make sure that this keeps happening?

     The next step on the road to higher taxes and assessments is the hearing for approval of the recommended project by the city council or county board. What is their usual answer to the proposition that the people do not want them to approve the project or spend the money? Well, based on the comprehensive plan, it sure looks like the people already approved of it, and since the planning has already taken place, it is too late to stop it now. They neglect to mention that they knew full well that the meetings to update or amend the comprehensive plans were managed by the same people who stand to profit by the projects, and that the people at the meetings were not told that their thoughts were going to be considered as a mandate to do these things. Is the whole process beginning to sound deceitful?

     Now we’ve briefly gone through all of the steps, all that remains is the taxes and special assessments required for us to pay these people’s way to prosperity. While the “occupy” protesters were speaking out against the 1% in Wall Street, it looks as if we have had our own 1% hiding right here amongst us. Maybe we should get the signs back out and set them up alongside Pokegama Avenue again.

     I mentioned at the beginning of this piece IEDC and GREDA also. There will be more on them later, but for now, as a way to tie all of this together, allow me to give you a partial list of former SEH employees in and around our local governments.

  • Karin Grandia, County Engineer
  • Tom Pagel, City Administrator and former City Engineer
  • Julie Kenndey, current City Engineer

     There are several others, but isn’t it a little suspicious that our city and county engineers are former employees of an engineering firm which receives contracts from the city and county without having to compete in a bidding process? Why would the city and county boards agree to hire these people when there are such obvious conflicts of interest? How deeply are our elected officials involved? We already know that one of our county commissioners sits on the board of the IEDC, even though he has been told that it is a conflict of interest. What is he gaining? What controversial projects is he facilitating? How many laws are really being broken here?

     It’s time to call things as they are. The IRRRB, IEDC, and GREDA would all like to be portrayed as legitimate government entities, but they are all really outside the realm of what we normally think of as government. They are development agencies with their own agendas. They are also full of instances of conflicts of interest. the best example of this is the Grand Rapids City Council member who is also a Vice President of the bank in which the city keeps much of its (our) money, and at the same time was a paid consultant for the IRRRB. Amazing the things they have been getting away with, isn’t it?

     After reading this, let’s get back to today’s question. Do you think that these operations are nannies, taking care of us because we can’t take care of ourselves, or are they leeches, enriching themselves by deceitfully convincing us that they are helping us when they are really stuffing their own pockets with our money?

          Mike Vroman.

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