Kalamazoo Approves Small Business Loan Program; Trolls Disrupt Meeting

Mar 31, 2020

A usually-bustling strip on Westnedge Avenue in Kalamazoo was quiet in late March 2020.
Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

Small businesses in the City of Kalamazoo have a new option for coronavirus relief: a low-interest loan, backed by a new program from the city and the United Way.

Qualified businesses can apply beginning Wednesday to borrow up to $50,000 while funds last, to pay for things like payroll and benefits. The city says it expects to review applications and disburse money within a few days.

Commissioners agreed to put $2 million in the fund; that money is coming from the city’s public-private partnership, the Foundation for Excellence, which will also manage the loan program.

Trolls

Commissioners ran into trouble with internet trolls at Tuesday’s special meeting on the loan program, which was virtual thanks to the coronavirus. When the Board opened public comments, one speaker used the n-word. Another made an anti-Semitic remark. (Other virtual meetings around the country have had similar problems.)

The city cut the offensive comments off. It also shortened each speaker’s time. But the trolls kept coming, with some genuine speakers in between. City Attorney Clyde Robinson said the state doesn’t require an open mic.

“I think perhaps that is the solution here, that we offer an email address that can be used for people to submit comments,” he said.

The state says the city has to take input from the public, and one sincere commenter, Kalamazoo County Commissioner Stephanie Moore, urged the Board not to step on people’s right to speak “just because there’s a small few individuals who just are not behaving according to standards.”

The city ended up limiting the total number of speakers at the meeting as trolls appeared to be jumping back in line.