Ferndale’s Coulter appointed county executive

By: Mike Koury, Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published August 16, 2019

 David Coulter

David Coulter

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OAKLAND COUNTY — From strategic resignations to furtive text messages, the battle to hold the majority of power in Oakland County has been a brutal one for the past several weeks.

On Friday, the Democrats called checkmate, installing former Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter as the new Oakland County executive, to the chagrin of Republicans who have historically held the office.  

The decision to place Coulter at the helm was a tight one, with 11-10 in favor of the move, split directly down party lines.

“I’m honored by the appointment and the trust that the Board of Commissioners have shown me,” Coulter said. “I intend to do my best to continue to make Oakland County the outstanding and successful county that it is.”

Getting there was by no means simple. Longtime Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson passed away Aug. 3, and both sides of the aisle have scrambled to figure out how to hold the majority since.

When Patterson announced his stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis in March, he said Assistant Chief Deputy Executive Gerald Poisson should hold the interim executive spot and then succeed him in the event of his passing. Poisson was sworn into office just hours after Patterson’s death.

A few days later, on Aug. 7, county records indicate that Board of Commissioners Chairman Dave Woodward, District 19, officially submitted his resignation to the county clerk. Many speculated that the move was an effort to name Woodward to the Executive Office by, of all people, Republicans, as it was believed Woodward would be an easy defeat in the race for county executive next year against whomever their candidate might be. Treasurer Andy Meisner is the current Democrat running for the seat in 2020.

That theory was spurred on by text messages made public that were sent to fellow GOP commissioners from Commissioner Shelley Goodman Taub, District 12, seemingly directing her peers to delete emails connected to discussions on the county executive appointment.

Taub declined to comment on the allegations to C & G Newspapers. Deleting emails and other government records in order to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests is a violation of Michigan law.

When word got out of the alleged plan, Woodward rescinded his resignation so he could keep his seat on the commission, so the Democrat-heavy board could vote in an executive of its choosing, which it did Friday afternoon.

Earlier that day, on Aug. 16, GOP commissioners tried to have the Oakland County Circuit Court intervene in Woodward’s effort to keep his seat, but a decision was returned in the Dems’ favor: Woodward could take back his resignation, keep his seat and restore the left’s majority.

For his part, Coulter said the appointment wasn’t something he campaigned or lobbied for, and this opportunity only came up in the days after Woodward rescinded his resignation.

“It’s really been just in the last couple days that my name had been floated out there as somebody who might be able to help bring the county government together in a united way, and that’s my hope as well,” he said.

Just after the vote, Coulter, who was present in the Board of  Commissioners chambers, spoke to the crowd and acknowledged the contentious circumstances of his appointment.

“I understand very well that this day is only made necessary by the passing of our county executive, Brooks Patterson,” he said. “You don’t replace Brooks Patterson, and I don’t expect to be able to. I can only be judged on my own merits, and I hope you’ll give me the opportunity to do that.”

Coulter said that he will do everything he can to live up to Patterson’s legacy, especially as it relates to the financial health of the county.

Because he still was mayor at the time of his appointment, Coulter was not sworn in. He resigned at a special Ferndale City Council meeting Aug. 19.

None of the county commissioners had released a statement on the appointment as of Friday afternoon, according to Brittany Haney Navetta, the communications and marketing assistant for the Board of Commissioners.

But that’s not to say there weren’t opinions to be found in the area.

“Democrats on the Oakland County Commission continue to engage in shady backroom deals to seize control of Oakland County. The voters of Oakland County spoke in 2016 when they elected a Republican, Brooks Patterson, and the voters deserve a transparent process to replace him,” Laura Cox, Michigan Republican party chairman, said in a prepared statement.

She added that Poisson should be appointed to the office, or a special election should be held to fill the spot.

“Dave Woodward resigned because he believed he had a backroom deal and reversed course when his deal fell apart,” she said in the statement.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard had released a statement earlier in the week discouraging the board from holding a special election for the county executive.

“Should the board not come to a consensus on an appointment, (a special election) would cost taxpayers between $700,000 and $800,000, with over $500,000 of this cost placed on local communities,” Bouchard said in a prepared statement. “This is not a fiscally responsible decision to waste the money on an election which will net only a six-month term for the winner. It is best to appoint Poisson and wait for the general election next November.”

On the other side of the coin, state Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, saw the appointment as a win.

“Dave Coulter has been an indispensable partner for me in keeping southern Oakland County thriving. As mayor of Ferndale, he earned a proven track record of bringing progressive solutions to the table, promoting sensible economic growth and ensuring diverse voices were welcome,” Moss said in a press release. “Dave’s talents and ingenuity will benefit all of Oakland County as our next executive. I’m excited to continue my partnership with him to connect state and county government in a way that will enhance the vitality of our community and its residents.”

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