Oakland board cancels meeting to pick Patterson successor
The Oakland County Board of Commissioners did an about-face on Thursday and canceled a board meeting to pick a new county executive that was scheduled the day of the late county executive L. Brooks Patterson's funeral.
Acting board chairwoman Marcia Gershenson has canceled the Aug. 15 meeting and issued a statement saying the appointment may be considered at a special meeting of the Board of Commissioners the next day. That meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Aug. 16 in the Commissioners Auditorium in the Oakland County Courthouse, 1200 N. Telegraph, Pontiac.
The decision comes after family and staff of the late Republican Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson lashed out at the county's Democratic-led Board of Commissioners for scheduling a board meeting and possible succession vote the day of Patterson's funeral.
The board originally scheduled a Thursday night special meeting that could have resulted in naming a new county executive, but it was canceled after county Treasurer Andy Meisner and others criticized the process as being too rushed.
Instead, Democratic Board Chairman David Woodward resigned Wednesday as he started to lay the groundwork for being appointed executive. Gershenson, D-Bloomfield Township, had said the board would accept applications through Tuesday, set up a bipartisan panel to review applicants and potentially pick a new county executive Aug. 15 at the board's regularly scheduled meeting.
“Brooks’ team is appalled by the spectacle at the Board of Commissioners and Marcia Gershenson’s sham interview process for appointing a new county executive,” County Executive Gerald Poisson said in a Thursday morning statement.
The acting county executive apparently feared the board's quick action was creating the perception there is no county executive, even though Poisson was sworn into office Saturday following Patterson's death. A budget has been submitted to the commissioners to approve or amend, Poisson noted
Patterson's daughter Mary Margaret Patterson Warner said scheduling a meeting to name a new county executive the morning of her father's funeral was inappropriate.
“The wound of losing our beloved father and grandfather became deeper when we learned the Oakland County Board of Commissioners scheduled a meeting the morning of his funeral to seize control of the county executive office," Warner said in a statement released by Poisson's office.
"This heartless play for power is unforgivable and has offended the Patterson family. Our father has earned and deserves more respect than this."
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Haley Hansen, a spokeswoman for the Board of Commissioners, said the decision to reschedule the meeting for Aug. 16 "was made by Board leaders from both parties out of respect for the family of L. Brooks Patterson."
By law, the board has 30 days or until Sept. 2 to appoint a new executive to replace Poisson. If it doesn't, Poisson would serve until a special election is held.
The Aug. 15 meeting was a regularly scheduled board meeting that was announced in 2018, Hansen said earlier Thursday.
"It was posted and well known there was an Aug. 15 meeting," she said. "There was no disrespect at all."
The agenda for the meeting was reduced to allow the board to deal only with the county executive vacancy, she said.
Hansen also said Gershenson never claimed the county executive office was vacant. A news release issued Wednesday said the board was seeking applications for the county executive post.
"That is unfounded. In our news releases there said nothing about there being a vacancy," Hansen said.
Meisner, a Democratic rival of Woodward's, wants a special election to choose a new county executive. Both Woodward and Meisner planned to run for county executive in 2020 prior to Patterson's death.
Meisner had called for the commissioners to hold off on a decision to appoint Patterson's successor, urging more transparency and public input, including a countywide call for applications and public interviews.
“As county treasurer for 10 years, I would like to apologize to the Patterson family for the disrespect that has been shown," Meisner said. "Not because I agreed with Brooks on everything, but because decades of service warrants our respect.”
Patterson's longtime spokesman. Bill Mullan, took to Twitter to slam the board's plans early Thursday and remained outraged after the cancellation.
"Too little too late," Mullan said. "The staff and family of L. Brooks Patterson are still very offended and upset that in the Democrats' rush to seize power, they could not give the dignity and respect that L. Brooks Patterson deserves on the day of his funeral.”
Patterson, 80, died Saturday after battling pancreatic cancer.
Woodward said he stepped down to apply to fill the remainder of Patterson's term, which ends in December 2020. State law governing the appointment process prohibits a sitting county commissioner from being appointed executive.
"I believe that I have the county experience, the leadership, and the proven record of getting things done for working families in Oakland County," said Woodward, who became chairman in January and represented Berkley and most of Royal Oak. "I'm the strongest to be ready on Day One to help lead our county."
Before the Aug. 16 meeting, the board will accept applications for the county executive that are available online at www.oakgov.com/boc.
Woodward’s departure leaves a split 10-10 Republican and Democratic board until a successor for Woodward's district is appointed.