HIGHLIGHTS + OTTAWA COUNTY
American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)—Part One
Published December 14, 2023
Written by Adams
Photography by Simply American
In March of 2021, Ottawa County found out it would be receiving $56.6 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This federal funding was a Covid-19 relief package intended to address the economic impacts of the pandemic and ensure a strong and equitable recovery.
American Rescue Plan Act
Distributed March of 2021
ARPA funds were distributed to county governments based on population. Ottawa County received $194 per person or $56.6 million. These funds were given to allow leaders to develop initiatives to stimulate economic recovery at the local level. The initiatives were to help individuals, businesses, and organizations most impacted by the devastating closures that happened due to mandated government shutdowns.
According to the agenda packet (pg. 237) from the February 7, 2023 Finance and Administration Committee meeting, the U.S. Treasury Department lists four primary purposes for the use of ARPA funds.
Four purposes of ARPA funds:
1. Support urgent Covid-19 response efforts to continue to decrease the spread of the virus and bring the pandemic under control
2. Replace lost revenue for eligible state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to strengthen support for vital public services and help retain jobs
3. Support immediate economic stabilization for households and businesses
4. Address systemic public health and economic challenges that have contributed to the unequal impact of the pandemic
AN ARPA COMMITTEE WAS FORMED
On June 8, 2021, former County Administrator Al Vanderberg submitted an Action Request (pg. 237) to the Board to set up an ARPA Committee.
Vanderberg submitted the following names to form the committee:
• Adam Elenbaas, Township Supervisor, Allendale Charter Township
• Gloria Lara, Executive Director, Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance
• Joy Gaasch, President (at the time, but recently retired), Chamber of Commerce, Grand Haven
• Jennifer Owens, President, Lakeshore Advantage
• Patrick Moran, President (at the time, not currently) United Way of Ottawa County
• Patrick Cisler, Executive Director, Lakeshore Non-Profit Alliance and Community Spoke
• Hadley Streng, President, Grand Haven Area Community Foundation
• Mike Goorhouse, President/CEO (at the time, not currently), Holland/Zeeland Community Foundation
• Terry Nienhuis, Township Supervisor, Holland Charter Township
• Ryan Kilpatrick, Executive Director, Housing Next
• Keith Van Beek, City Manager, City of Holland
• Pat McGinnis, City Manager (at the time, not currently), City of Grand Haven
• Holly Cole, Member, Ottawa County Housing Commission and VP of Grants and Programs, GH Area Community Foundation
• Dr. Dale Nesbary, President (at the time, not currently), Muskegon Community College
• Roger Bergman, Chair (at the time, not currently), Ottawa County Board of Commissioners
• Joe Baumann, Chair (at the time, not currently), Finance & Administration Committee, Ottawa County Board of Commissioners
• John Shay, Deputy County Administrator (at the time, not currently), Ottawa County
• Karen Karasinki, Fiscal Services Director, Ottawa County
• Robyn Afrik, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Director, Ottawa County
• Al Vanderberg, County Administrator (at the time, not currently), Ottawa County
Vanderberg’s list was void of any voice from the east side of Ottawa County—neither did his list include a single person from the general population, nor any small business owner. People severely affected by Covid-19 were not invited to the table.
Not only did Vanderberg ensure the selection of people to serve on the committee, but also the entities where the ARPA funds would go.
In other words, the very first time our Board of Commissioners had a joint discussion about ARPA, Vanderberg already had a plan as to who would control the funds—and that control wouldn’t be in the hands of the Board or citizens.
ARPA Committee Meetings—No Minutes, Public Not Invited
On July 7, 2021, the ARPA Committee met for the very first time—behind closed doors. The public received no notice of the meeting. There remains an agenda, but no minutes. No video is available for citizens to see the distribution processing of the ARPA projects.
The ARPA Committee claims to have held 14 meetings between July 7, 2021 and October 24, 2022. Only a pre-printed agenda and spoken assurances can attest to the closed-door planning of spending $56.6 million in taxpayer funds.
ARPA Buckets And Managers
On December 14, 2021, the Board of Commissioners approved the proposed ARPA fund lenses, “buckets” as the report calls them. The ARPA funds now had a direction, going to projects that fit into the selected ARPA buckets.
• County Operations
• Countywide Broadband
• Affordable Housing
• Social and Human Services
• Business Stabilization Needs
Having decided on a direction for the funds to go, on January 19, 2022, the county sent out a Request for Proposals for bucket managers. Those who applied would receive an interview at the beginning of March 2022.
Best practice for interviewing about the disbursement of public funds would suggest having one or more elected commissioners to conduct them, or at least be present. Ottawa County, however, delegated the process to its DEI Director, Robyn Afrik—who was not an elected official sworn to be a voice for the citizens. Afrik didn’t have to search far for bucket managers. Some already comprised the ARPA Committee.
County Operations Manager:
Paul Sachs, Director, Strategic Impact
Countywide Broadband Manager:
Paul Sachs, Director, Strategic Impact
Affordable Housing Managers:
• Ryan Kilpatrick, ARPA Committee Member, Housing Next
• Mike Goorhouse, ARPA Committee Member, Social and Human Services Bucket Manager, Community Foundation of Holland/Zeeland
• Hadley Streng, ARPA Committee Member, Grand Haven Area Community Foundation
Social and Human Services Managers:
• Mike Goorhouse, ARPA Committee Member, Affordable Housing Bucket Manager, Community Foundation of Holland/Zeeland
• Hadley Streng, ARPA Committee Member, Affordable Housing Bucket Manager, Grand Haven Area Community Foundation
• Elizabeth Kidd, VP of Community Impact, Community Foundation of Holland/Zeeland
• Liz DeLaLuz, VP of Community Impact, United Way
• Kelly Keen, Chief Financial Officer, United Way
• Randy Kortering, Community Foundation of Holland/Zeeland
Business Stabilization Needs Manager:
Jennifer Owens, ARPA Committee Member, Lakeshore Advantage
Bucket managers signed contracts with the county and were paid for their services. The bucket managers would choose the projects important enough to be brought before the Board. Several managers were also on the ARPA Committee and therefore had oversight of themselves.
In July 2022, almost one year after the first meeting, the county decided to survey the community for input on distribution of ARPA funds—even though:
• the buckets already had been decided,
• the managers already had been chosen, and
• projects already were being submitted.
The survey only allowed citizens to rank what the committee felt was important.
• Citizens were asked on a scale of 1 to 5, how important it is to fund projects in Affordable Housing, Social and Human Services, Countywide Broadband, and Business Stabilization
• No questions were asked about the damage done to small businesses or about how families were doing economically after the shutdown
• Only 2,233 citizens responded to the survey
On August 16, 2022, the survey results were provided to the Finance and Administration Committee. At the same meeting, just a few minutes after the survey results were given, the ARPA Committee asked for the first four projects to be approved and forwarded to the Board of Commissioners. Finance and Administration didn’t take any time to review survey results—or let the full Board review the results—before allocating $5.5 million to the first four projects, essentially muting the citizens’ voice.
So many questions could be asked. Why were no general members of the public invited to the table? Why were none of the businesses affected by Covid-19 on the committee? How do you survey the people, interview applicants, and then within five minutes justify a vote? Did the public’s input even matter?
One year after the county took only a few months to spend the $56 million, do you know where your $194 portion of ARPA funds went? Who is overseeing the projects that received the ARPA funds? Why haven’t the bucket managers reported to the Board?
American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)—Part Two will give more information.