Candidates vying to become Oakland County executive share their goals

By: Mike Koury | C&G Newspapers | Published July 21, 2020

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OAKLAND COUNTY — Heading into the Aug. 4 primary, there are four people vying to become the next Oakland County executive.

Both the Democratic and Republican primaries are contested, with each race featuring two candidates for voters to choose from. The winners will head to the Nov. 3 election to win a four-year term.

The current county executive is Democrat Dave Coulter, who was appointed to the position after the death of L. Brooks Patterson last August. If elected, Coulter said his top priority is to continue to help Oakland County get through the COVID-19 pandemic, both from a health and economic perspective.

“Once we get a vaccine, we still have to manage the devastation to our economy,” stated Coulter. “So making sure that our residents and businesses have the resources they need to get back on their feet (is a priority). As we fight the virus, it’s still a top priority and will continue to be into next year.”

Coulter also stated that it’s his goal to make sure Oakland County is protecting its environment and working on programs that increase the use of renewable energy and sustainability. Another goal is to continue his work on initiatives that already were underway before the pandemic hit, including expanding access to quality, affordable health care through the expansion of public health clinics.

“We unveiled a proposal that we call Oakland Health 360, which would really transform our public health clinics into full service medical facilities that everyone could have access to,” he said. “That continues to be a priority for me.”

Running against Coulter in the Democratic primary is Andy Meisner, who currently is the Oakland County treasurer. Meisner stated his goals are to expand gender and racial equity, expand access to physical and mental health resources, and lower costs of prescription drugs through a health care proposal that would build 80 regional health and wellness centers around the county.

Meisner also said one of his goals is to lead Oakland County out of the coronavirus crisis from a health and economic perspective

“On the health front, the focus needs to be on testing, treatment and tracing while continuing to follow public health guidance on wearing masks, social distancing and doing everything we can to avoid spread of the disease, as Gov. Whitmer has laid out,” he said. “And then on the economic side … what’s happened so far is kind of throwing a lot of money at the problem, which is helpful but not a complete solution.”

Meisner continued to say that what Oakland County needs to do is create new supports for small businesses in Oakland County, not only helping businesses that are struggling because of the crisis, but also helping new small businesses to launch.

“That’s something I want to do through the creation of a regional network of small business incubators and accelerators,” he said. “Some of these businesses aren’t going to make it, and they’re gonna need a place to go to regroup and to get ready to go back into the marketplace. A place like TechTown in Detroit, we don’t really have that or as much of that sort of thing in Oakland County. I think that the key to recovery on the financial or economic side is the financial support, but creating more brick and mortar support through the building of these incubators that can not only provide free space for small businesses, but can provide mentoring and support and connection to the grant and loan programs that are out there.”

In the Republican primary, former state Sen. and Rep. Mike Kowall will go up against attorney Jeffrey Nutt.

Kowall said his first goal is to stabilize the budget, which he feels will be a challenge due to COVID-19. His second goal is to improve mental health care for residents in the county.

“We have some of the best hospital systems in the country right here in the county, and getting together with them and formulating a real plan as to how we’re going to take care of a lot of the mental health issues that we have (is a priority), which in turn it’ll lower the amount of people that we have in our jails,” he said.

Kowall also sees education as a priority, and he wanted to make sure schools in the county are “operating at 100%.”

“We have the ability here in the county … to be the best of the best throughout the United States, and I don’t see us going in that direction,” he said. “I see us moving in another direction entirely. So I want to make sure that when you say you’re from Oakland County, that says the whole thing right there — that this is the best county in the country and the standard of living is such that reflects that.”

Nutt stated his No. 1 goal is to make Oakland County an economic powerhouse again, and he aims to do that by bringing in more small businesses that have tech-driven jobs with high paying salaries.

Nutt also wants to strengthen Oakland County’s education system for both grade school and colleges.

“(We’ll bring) the best career tech training that can be offered anywhere in the areas where it’s needed the most,” he said. “And with that, the very best health care, which is something that we can build upon that’s part of our heritage with having more than 10 hospitals, as well as facilities with staff from three medical schools at the moment in our county.”

Nutt’s last goal falls under “sound financial government operations and transportation,” and he wants to build upon the success that Patterson previously laid.

“We’re going to do that also in a way that enhances transportation and that will be through a simple law reform to increase transportation funding and improve our roads and ease congestion with more than $100 million of federal funds that would be drawn down through this new entity that would not require any new taxing power and no new elected officials, but it would allow us to recapture these many hundreds of millions of dollars that Oakland County taxpayers have been paying for many years to support transit in other states,” he said.

Also on the ballot is a short term that will end on Dec. 31. According to Coulter, when he was appointed last year, the law stated that the appointment would last until the next election, not the end of the year. He said the county clerk took this interpretation that someone could be appointed from the election until the end of 2020, so a separate election was added. All candidates also are listed in that race.

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