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Garcia, Kuiper bring diversity to Board of Commissioners

By Jordan Climie/The Holland Sentinel • Feb 3, 2017 at 11:00 AM

WEST OLIVE — Two new faces sit at the 11-member Ottawa County Board of Commissioners table, and they bring some noticeable differences compared to the other nine.

Frank Garcia, who is bilingual and bicultural, was elected in November 2016 as commissioner of District 1, which consists of Park and Port Sheldon townships, and a portion of Holland.

"I think that the board has actually been wanting and hoping for that diversity," he said. "It's a question of who's able to run and who's willing to run a campaign and able to win. Fortunately, I've been able to do that."

Garcia was previously the superintendent for Holland Public Schools, after an education career that took him to Fennville and West Ottawa schools.

"I've been in the area for 40 years, I knew a lot of the voters," he said. "I either had them as parents of my students, or students themselves, or neighbors, and so forth."

Kelly Kuiper of Hudsonville was recently selected by a majority of the board to fill the vacancy in District 6 — which covers the southern half of Georgetown Township — after the death of Dennis Van Dam. At 28, she's by far the youngest commissioner on the current board, and its only woman.

"We're getting to a point where we're bringing in diversity, but not for the sake of diversity," Kuiper said. "Everyone needs more diversity. The way we were raised make us all diverse on this (board). That's something we should focus on. I don't want to forget the diversity that's already there, and not focus on what you can see on the outside."

Kuiper said she isn't going to try to "rock the boat" coming into her position on the board, but instead offer a "fresh perspective" that other commissioners might not see.

"My gender, my age, my past employment, my new residency status are all very unique to me and the overall board," she said. "I think those are such a fresh lens for everyone on the board, which will be really important. So many factors that shape the way we view the world, including experiences, are a unique perspective for the board.

"I've already been a member of the Caledonia Township Board," Kuiper continued. "Looking back on things I've accomplished ... I worked hard for them. They didn't happen overnight. I can confidently say I am qualified for this job."

Both Garcia and Kuiper agree that Ottawa County is strong overall, so they don't want to try and shake things up, but instead continue the path the county is on.

"We're one of the fastest-growing counties in the state, and one of the goals of the county is how do we manage that growth and still be able to maintain that open space for agricultural space, as well?" Garcia said. "I think it's not only important that we focus five, 10 years into the future, but 30, 40 years ahead. I think that's one of the things the board appreciates with having Kelly on board in District 6 is that she's young and hopefully she'll be able to provide us with what her age group, like my daughter and my son, what is it that they would like to see 40 years down the road so that they can enjoy what we're enjoying."

Kuiper noted that Georgetown Township is the ninth-largest township in Michigan.

“So, trying to understand that large population is going to have unique and bigger-ticket items,” she said. “One thing I want to accomplish is how do we make sure that the (county) is serving these residents, almost 50,000 residents, while not losing sight overall of the county and municipalities. It will require patience, balance and dedication."

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