Get to Know
Board of Commissioners Chair Jim Saalfeld
At the Board’s first meeting in January 2018, Kent County Commissioner Jim Saalfeld was re-elected to the position of Chair for a third year. He has served as a Commissioner since 2011. Jim is an accomplished and well-rounded attorney, company executive and small business owner, who holds numerous leadership positions within the community.
Jim graduated from Northwestern Law School and moved to Kent County to work for Dykema Gossett Law Firm in the early 1990s. “At the time, I had no connection with the area, and assumed I would work 3-4 years before moving somewhere else where I had more connections. But here I am 25 years later … with Kent County now ‘home’ for me,” Jim recalls. Jim also worked as General Counsel of a large restaurant company (Meritage Hospitality Group), started his own law firm (Saalfeld & Stewart), and worked as in-house counsel at BISSELL. He currently is CEO of Church Extension Fund, a large financial non-profit company that helps churches and schools build or remodel their facilities.
Community service has always been important to Jim. In addition to his positions with the County, Jim holds various leadership roles within the community including: Chair of the Kent Hospital Finance Authority; Board of Directors for the Arthritis Foundation of West Michigan; Board member of the Grand Rapids Township Economic Development Corporation; and Board member of the Northwestern University Alumni Club of West Michigan. In addition, Jim was appointed by Governor John Engler to the Michigan Higher Education Facilities Commission. He is also a long-time member of the Kent County GOP where he served as its Treasurer from 2006-2010. For several years, Jim helped people organize and run campaigns for elected office. In 2010, he decided it was time to try his own campaign. “I always wanted to serve my community,” Jim recalls. “Growing up, I watched my mother successfully run for elected office, and I knew there is something special about public service. I felt a calling to bring my skills and abilities to the table to help our community.”
Jim also serves his profession, where he is a hearing panelist for the Michigan Supreme Court Attorney Discipline Board, and served as a panelist for the Michigan Bar Character and Fitness Committee. Jim is a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church in downtown Grand Rapids where he served as Congregational President from 2001-2009.
In addition to currently serving as Chair of the Board of Commissioners, Jim also served as Board Vice Chair, Chair of the Legislative Committee, Chair of the Finance Committee, and led several County committees including the Community Collaboration Work Group (2011-2013), and the Agri-Business Community Work Group (2014-2016). “As I look back, I believe the work of these two work groups was very meaningful to our community. The Community Collaboration Work Group underscored how much the local governments, business community and philanthropic groups are already working together, but also demonstrated where other opportunities still exist for collaboration and cooperation,” said Jim. “I believe both Work Group’s findings and recommendations are serving as a guide to our community in these important areas.”
One of Jim’s most significant moments in public service occurred very recently when, on January 31, 2018, he was recognized as one of the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s “2017 Newsmakers of the Year.” He won in the Law category for his leadership in creating two courts: specialized dockets for both a Mental Health Court and a Girls Court. “It was an honor to be nominated and selected,” Jim said. “This recognition is not only an honor for me personally, but also for the Kent County Board of Commissioners, the Count staff, the Circuit Court, and all those who make these two Courts possible. It truly takes a team to make a difference in this community, and I am proud to be a part of this team.”