KALAMAZOO — The Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners voted 7-4 Tuesday to suspend its 2021 funding to Southwest Michigan First as the fallout continues over the organization’s brief hire of former GOP House Speaker Lee Chatfield as CEO.
The county’s suspension of its yearly contribution follows the city of Kalamazoo and some community organizations that cut ties with the economic development organization after it hired Chatfield as its CEO. Chatfield resigned after a week on the job following outcry over his appointment.
The Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners voted to withhold its annual $75,000 contribution to Southwest Michigan First, which will be prorated to roughly $40,000-$50,000, said Board Chair Tracy Hall.
While Hall led the county board’s push in recent weeks to withdraw the funding, she told MiBiz that she is optimistic the county and Southwest Michigan First will have an improved relationship going forward.
Hall and other Kalamazoo County leaders met with Southwest Michigan First Interim CEO Carla Sones and other staff members last week and plan to continue meeting on a monthly basis, Hall said.
“We only voted to suspend it for this year, and my guess is that we’ll reinstate it next year,” Hall said. “ I feel like we’ll end up having a better relationship with Southwest Michigan First than we had even a month ago.”
Hall sought to withdraw the funding based on Chatfield’s prior record in the Legislature involving LGBTQ rights as well as his inexperience for the position.
“I hope people will look at it that a majority of us (on the county commission) disagreed for a whole host of reasons with the decision that was made by their board,” Hall said. “For me, the main reason was the choice was anti-LBGTQ, but also Chatfield had a lack of experience.”
Hall said she thinks the last couple of weeks served as a learning opportunity for both the county and Southwest Michigan First.
“This is an opportunity to forge a better partnership, one that I haven’t really seen,” Hall said.