Oakland County board appoints Ferndale mayor to succeed Patterson

By: - August 16, 2019 1:08 pm

Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter, March 18, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

After a whirlwind process that involved resignations, boycotts and accusations of backroom dealings, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners on Friday voted to appoint Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter as Oakland County executive.

Coulter will succeed L. Brooks Patterson, the longtime county executive who died in early August. Coulter’s appointment will be effective upon his resignation as Ferndale mayor, and he also said he would resign his position with the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation. Patterson’s deputy, Gerald Poisson, has been the acting executive since Brooks’ Aug. 3 death.

In accepting the nomination, Coulter said “I want to reach out to all of you [Republicans and Democrats] to get your input, and your advice, and your counsel, and be productive together.”

The board voted 11-10 along party lines to appoint Coulter, a Democrat, to serve the rest of Patterson’s term that will end next year. The vote was made possible by the return of Democratic Chair Dave Woodward to the board, who had previously announced that he would resign to seek the executive position himself, leaving the board split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

Woodward withdrew his resignation and his candidacy for executive on Thursday, angering Republicans, including Oakland County Commissioner Mike Spisz and county GOP Chair Rocky Raczkowski, who filed an injunction Friday morning attempting to block Woodward’s return to the board. It was denied, allowing the proceedings to go forward.

According to the Oakland Press, Raczkowski said he filed the injunction to protest in order to “demand that this be a proper run body run by the law and not by these political whims that have created a sham of a process.”

The process was marred by criticism of its speed, which so perturbed a group of Patterson’s deputies and appointees that Deputy County Executives Phil Bertolini, Bob Daddow and Director of Management and Budget Laurie Van Pelt told the board if Coulter were appointed they would resign.

Deputy Executive Tim Meyer said he would stay in his capacity as deputy for two weeks in order to help with Coulter’s transition, according to the Oakland Press’ Mark Cavitt.

Before the vote, Republicans on the board introduced a measure to replace Coulter’s name in the motion to appoint with Poisson’s. The vote failed along party lines.

The process leading up to Friday’s vote was rife with accusations that it was rushed in order to install Woodward in the executive seat. Woodward was one of five candidates interviewed for the position by two board commissioners this week.

The interviewing committee, however, was supposed to be a three-person panel before Republican Thomas Middleton boycotted the proceedings, saying he was not given enough time to prepare.

During Friday’s proceedings, Woodward said he withdrew his nomination because he “knew [he] was a distraction,” and that he took “full responsibility” for the controversy around his potential nomination.

Dave Woodward
Dave Woodward

Coulter was not one of the five candidates interviewed by the two-person panel on Wednesday. The new executive announced his candidacy for the state House in the 27th district in July, but declined to say Friday whether he would end his run after his appointment. Elections for the county executive seat and the state Legislature will be held simultaneously in November 2020.

Woodward and Democratic Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner both announced their intent to seek the executive seat in 2020 before Patterson’s death. Meisner declined to put his name forward for the interim appointment, saying he questioned the integrity of the process given the speed with which it has moved forward.

Coulter told Democrats during Friday’s proceedings that he views the seat as a “16-month appointment.” He had previously endorsed Meisner for the seat.

“I may not have been your first choice, your second choice, or your third choice, but I hope you understand that this is a sincere invitation to join in making sure that we do the right thing for the county,” Coulter said to the board after his appointment passed. “We came here to put the interests of Oakland County citizens first, and to do what’s best for our county.”

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Derek Robertson
Derek Robertson

Derek Robertson is a former reporter for the Advance. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.