What You See Isn’t Always What You Get If It’s Grand Rapids Debt

Most of us have probably seen the following in our mailboxes in recent weeks:

bliss debt flyer-page-002

If you were the 1 in 180,000 that took the time to go to the flyer indicated link,


then clicked that page’s fourth link down, you would see where the flyer data originated from.

Debt Burden 002-page-001

But the flyer raised questions in my engineer’s mind that were difficult to answer. The flyer shows $533 of per capita debt. An equation using an approximate population of 180,000 yields the following:

  • $533 x 180,000 = $95,940,000

So the flyer claims, using the calculation, that the Grand Rapids debt burden is just shy of $100 million.

But I showed in another post that just one page of the Comprehensive Annual Fiscal Report showed debt of $575,567,600, and indicated this was not a total figure, just the starting point of an analysis.

And, the former city comptroller, Donijo DeJonge, was quoted in a recent news release as follows:

  • “To me, if you want to be on stable financial footing you have to get your unfunded liabilities and debt under control,” said DeJonge, who in 2011 became the first woman elected Grand Rapids city comptroller. “He’ll bring up the financial position of the city, and we’re approaching $1 billion of debt and unfunded liabilities. That’s significant.”

Unfortunately, she was referring to Robert Dean. Unfortunately, I was never contacted or included in the vetting process, which doesn’t seem right, but that’s the way it is when you’re not part of machine politics. I have been expressing the same concerns as Dean on-line and in debates, and have explained more fully than any candidate how I’d like to begin working on fixing the problem. And I’m the most fiscally conservative candidate running.

So per the ex-comptroller, the total debt for Grand Rapids is approaching $1 billion (to see an actual calculation to date go here). Putting these number into the calculator shows a different picture:

$1,000,000,000/180,000 = $5,556


  • Debt claimed in flyer: $533 per capita.
  • Debt per comptroller: $5,556 per capita.

So, back to the source data for the flyer. It comes from accessmygov.com, which provides this disclaimer at the bottom of the page:

  • **Disclaimer: BS&A Software provides AccessMyGov.com as a way for municipalities to display information online and is not responsible for the content or accuracy of the data herein. This data is provided for reference only and WITHOUT WARRANTY of any kind, expressed or inferred. Please contact your local municipality if you believe there are errors in the data.

Apparently, although the web page has the Grand Rapids logo and looks very much like an official Grand Rapids web page, it is really just a presentation site for data regarding municipalities. You can look at hundreds of different cities on the site. Most importantly, whoever controls the AccessMyGov.com account controls the data you’re being shown.

Calls to city hall got me the information that the debt displayed on the AccessMyGov page comes directly from an export from the State of Michigan. I was told the State looks at reports like the Comprehensive Annual Fiscal Report, take data they deem relevant, and post it on their own, with no input from the city.


  • Why did the Bliss campaign use this AccessMyGov data instead of using city provided data?
  • Bliss is currently a city commissioner. Why didn’t she direct her campaign to contact sources within the city government if they wanted to talk about the debt?
  • Why did they cherry pick this data, which obviously shows improvement, and which leads us to believe the total city debt was approximately $100 million, when by most other accounts, it’s really approaching $1 billion?
  • What is happening with the other 90% of debt information that wasn’t presented? Will we be getting another mailing covering that, or isn’t that how politics is played?
  • If this was just an honest mistake, how many other honest mistakes should we expect in the future?
  • Why doesn’t the mainstream media do reporting like this any more?

I am the most prolific of the candidates when putting out my views and plans. I have not been taken to task by anyone for anything I’ve presented other than a few, who obviously didn’t read what I wrote, and already had their minds made up. You can’t illuminate a closed mind.

Hopefully this was an oversight and not how this candidate plans to run Grand Rapids. If this was not an oversight, I certainly don’t condone this type behavior from either a sitting commissioner, or a candidate, myself included, running for public office.

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