Longtime Royal Oak city attorney leaves to serve hometown

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published November 20, 2020

 Longtime Royal Oak City Attorney David Gillam worked his last day with the city of Royal Oak Nov. 13 and was set to begin his new position as village administrator and clerk in Wolverine Lake, a 1.68-square-mile village in Commerce Township, Nov. 23.

Longtime Royal Oak City Attorney David Gillam worked his last day with the city of Royal Oak Nov. 13 and was set to begin his new position as village administrator and clerk in Wolverine Lake, a 1.68-square-mile village in Commerce Township, Nov. 23.

File photo provided by Judy Davids

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ROYAL OAK — Longtime Royal Oak City Attorney David Gillam, 61, is saying goodbye to the city for the third, and final, time.

The municipal defender retired from the city’s workforce for the first time in 2014 and has since served multiple roles, including a nearly yearlong stint as interim city manager following the departure of former City Manager Don Johnson in June 2019.

Gillam is not done working, however. His resignation from the position of city attorney was effective as of Nov. 14, and he is set to begin a new role Nov. 23 as village administrator and clerk for Wolverine Lake, a 1.68-square-mile village in Commerce Township where he has lived for the last eight years.

The position opened up after the city of Clawson selected Michael Smith, who had held the village administrator and clerk job in Wolverine Lake since March 2019, to serve as Clawson City Manager this August. Smith, whose home is also closer to Wolverine Lake, previously resigned as Clawson city clerk — after working for the city for nine years — to take the position in Wolverine Lake.

Gillam said he has mixed feelings about the move, but when the opportunity arose and he began looking into it further, it made sense.

“I was thinking about leaving (the city of Royal Oak) next year anyway, and with the background and the experience I have with what I think the village was looking for, it seemed to make sense,” he said.

His round-trip commute will now be a quarter of a mile, compared to the 50-mile round trip to Royal Oak. He said he is excited to be able to be closer to home with his wife.

“I’m not looking for a retirement job. I’m looking to go there to work, and if things are going well, I may be there for 10 years,” Gillam said. “I feel pretty lucky. I think the city (of Royal Oak) has been very, very good to me, and I’ve enjoyed working here.”

After graduating from law school in 1986, Gillam began his career with the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office and has since worked either for the city of Royal Oak or law firms in Oakland County.

His base salary will be $85,000, a reduction of approximately $57,000 from his salary in Royal Oak.

On Nov. 9, the Royal Oak City Commission unanimously approved Gillam’s recommendation to retain municipal law firm Rosati, Schultz, Joppich & Amstbuechler to serve as interim city counsel. The cost is $175 per hour for shareholders and $150 per hour for associates, according to the contract.

According to a memo from Gillam to the commission, the firm currently serves as general counsel for Farmington, Farmington Hills, Green Oak Township, Hamburg Township, Highland Township, Holly Township, Huntington Woods, Lyon Township, Novi, South Lyon, Sylvan Lake, Waterford Township, White Lake Township and Wixom.

The commission also unanimously approved City Manager Paul Brake’s recommendation to hire GovHR to conduct an executive search to recruit a permanent replacement for a quoted $20,500. The same firm conducted the executive search that resulted in Brake’s hire this spring. The city received two bids. The other was from executive recruitment firm Baker Tilly.

Following the conclusion of the Nov. 9 meeting’s regular agenda, commissioners took turns congratulating, thanking, endorsing and poking good-natured fun at Gillam for both his character and the professional successes he accomplished for the city.

Mayor Michael Fournier said Gillam effectively moved the city forward in “a very progressive fashion” and made it a “more welcoming and attractive place.”

“A lot of times, government doesn’t do things because it’s so hard and most of what’s hard about it is the legal wrangling that you’ve had to champion on every single issue,” Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said. “You’ve been a driving force in keeping us on track and on target.”

Commissioner Melanie Macey called Gillam the “steady hand at the helm of the ship” through the “tumultuous happenings” in Royal Oak over the past decade.

“As a lawyer, it’s really incredible to watch you flip from one subject to another,” Macey said. “You are a soothing balm for all of us, as far as talking us through some really complicated issues.”

Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Paruch, a retired lawyer who served as mayor of Royal Oak when Gillam came on board with the city, said she felt the most impressive thing about Gillam is the way he makes each commissioner better by teaching them about the law and understanding how abiding by the law makes the city’s policies better.

“As a result, the things we do are more sustainable, more defensible and better for the community overall,” Paruch said.

Some of Gillam’s recent accomplishments include defending the civic center project that includes a new City Hall, new Police Department, new parking structure, a downtown park and a Henry Ford medical outpatient center; helping the city navigate its zoning and licensing ordinances pertaining to recreational marijuana; and finding a new city manager.

“I give this group in particular an awful lot of credit. You had to make some difficult decisions and you’re going to have to make more difficult decisions with everything else that’s going on, but you have not been afraid to make them. You don’t always agree, but you’re not supposed to agree,” Gillam said. “I feel like I will always have friends here.”

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