Elk Rapids Looks for “13 Ways” to Improve Community Relationships
A group of concerned citizens in Elk Rapids is taking matters into their own hands – saying there’s too much tension in the village. The group wants to smooth those tensions and says a community consultant can help turn things around.
Tom Kern is the Executive Director of the Elk Rapids Chamber of Commerce. He’s noticed the tension growing, especially in the past 18 months. “There’s been a number of issues in the Elk Rapids community that, where there’s been a very diverse opinion. The level of civil discord in those meetings got pretty personal.”
Kern adds, “There are people within communities that have very strong feelings about those communities. And those don’t always align. Elk Rapids is no different than any other community in that regard.”
But now the rising tensions and personality clashes are leading “The Coalition of the Possible” to take it upon themselves to ease the tension in the community. Rick Bellingham helped start The Coalition. He says they’ve learned there are many ways to kill a community – and Elk Rapids leaders and citizens may be guilty of some of them. “Things like not being responsible, looking backwards instead of forwards, and not cooperating. There have been some instances of not cooperating here but I think we’re doing better at that.”
Frequent debate, tension during public meetings, and personality clashes: Members of the coalition – and even the head of the Chamber – all say it’s time to stop butting heads. They’re hoping to hire a Canadian consultant and author named Doug Griffiths to restore the peace. Bellingham says, “We thought, why not check this guy out and see how he might be able to help us? He talked about what it takes to build a healthy community.”
Kern says, “He’s really talking more about the ways people communicate with each other, not about the physical assets. More about the psychological and mental health of the community and getting that back on track.”
Griffiths is the author of “13 Ways to Kill a Community.” He’s also a former Canadian legislator and a holds an MBA. The Coalition says he’s helped more than 100 communities and has a focus on rural areas. So now, with tension spilling over into the community, those behind the so-called “13 Ways Project” want to act fast.
Kern says, “There’s a deeper issue which is the inability of the community to move forward as a community in addressing issues that we all know need to be addressed.” Those issues include things like affordable housing and an expansion of the library – things that can’t be addressed successfully while there is so much infighting.
“We finally came to the realization that we needed some outside help to help us move forward. It’s almost like you would do in your family, when you family gets to a point where you can’t resolve your own issues yourself, you maybe go out and get some outside help from somebody.”
Bellingham says, “My family’s been here for almost 100 years. So we love Elk Rapids and everything it represents. So this was an opportunity to help people come together to create a healthier, more sustainable community.”
They say getting some help from the outside is better than doing nothing and letting things continue. Kern says that was an option Griffiths suggested on a virtual call, but “if we choose to do nothing, those situations and those issues are going to continue to deteriorate. They’re not going to get better.” Kern says Griffiths is experienced enough to lay out the big picture for the community. “Here are your assets, here are your liabilities, here are your opportunities.”
Critics have voiced concerns about the $100,000 price tag for the 13 Ways consultations, or that no other consultants are being suggested. Bellingham says, “There are always critics, and for good reason. It’s good that people raise questions. But the truth is we did a very diligent search and did our due diligence and looked at other consultants who could perform this type of work… he has a specialty in rural communities. After a pretty exhaustive search we thought he was the guy to do it.”
“And $100,000 seems like a big price tag, and it is. But that’s not out of line with what people like this charge. And we want everyone to have skin in the game. So that all agencies contribute to this, or as many as possible, so everyone feels like they’re part of it.” Kern agrees. “To move forward you have to have that consensus, that commitment that you all agree on a path.”
Those behind this project know it’s a massive undertaking and a daunting effort – but they really hope the 13 Ways project will be a gateway to helping build a better understanding of each other and making this a thriving community here in Elk Rapids. Bellingham and Kern agree this may be the best path to help bridge the gaps in communication and understanding – between all governmental and community groups – so everyone can work better together.
Bellingham says, “We’ve already talked to the DDA, the Village Council, and the school board. And we plan to talk to both townships, Elk Rapids Township and Milton Township. We’ll talk to the library board, the Rotary, the Chamber.” He adds, “Instead of working with just one agency at a time, the whole idea is to create collaborative effort where we’re all looking at ways of supporting each other, and like I say, create a community that’s really healthy and thriving and prosperous.”
Kern will help reach out to those groups. “What we’re trying to do is split that cost up among six or seven organizations.” So far the Village of Elk Rapids has voted to throw-in $10,000 of support, with more community meetings still to come.