Kalamazoo City Commissioners Approve Creation of $500 Million Fund

Kalamazoo City Commissioners Approve Creation of $500 Million Fund

The Kalamazoo City (MI) Commission has voted to create a half-billion dollar endowment using a combination of public and private funds to address the city's ongoing budget crisis.

On Monday, city commissioners voted 5-2 to authorize the creation of the Foundation for Excellence (FFE) — plans for which were first announced a year ago. With an initial donation of $70.3 million from William Johnston, head of the Greenleaf Cos., and William Parfet, retired chairman and CEO of MPI Research Co., the fund will help the city stabilize its budget, lower property taxes, and provide $10 million annually through 2019 for programs to address poverty. FFE hopes to raise a total of $500 million over the next two years from local institutions, philanthropists, and other individuals.

According to FEE's organizing documents, the public-private partnership will be governed by a fifteen-member board, nine of whom must be Kalamazoo residents. In addition to the mayor, city manager, and two city commissioners, the board will include one person nominated by the City Commission and ten "stakeholders" — three representing Kalamazoo's neighborhoods and seven representing specific sectors such as education, health care, business, and the arts. MLive.com reports that stakeholders will be nominated by a third-party organization, most likely the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, which will host FFE's public meetings.

Commissioners Shannon Sykes Nehring and Matt Milcarek voted against approval, arguing that despite assurances that private donations to the endowment would be made with "no strings attached," FFE documents suggest that donors may be able to earmark some or all of their donations for specific projects — resulting in some projects being prioritized over those benefiting low-income and minority residents, Sykes told WMUK. Several residents expressed similar concerns or called for greater transparency. Eponine Garrod, who is competing for the seat in Michigan's 6th Congressional District, said she was worried that "[b]ecause now we have donations coming in that we have been told must meet the intention of the donors," earmarked funds would benefit the wealthy instead of the people of Kalamazoo.