Woodward drops bid for Oakland County executive, wants board seat back

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Former Oakland County Board of Commissioners chairman David Woodward withdrew his application Thursday to become interim county executive and sought to reclaim his board seat, the latest twist in a heated battle over who should replace the late L. Brooks Patterson.

In letters to county officials, Woodward said he was ending his bid to replace the late county executive L. Brooks Patterson, whose funeral was Thursday, and had "decided to withdraw my request to resign as Oakland County Commissioner for District 19, dated August 7, 2019."

In identical letters sent to the board and to county Clerk Lisa Brown, Woodward wrote: "Since the Oakland County Board of Commissioners has not accepted or otherwise acted on my request to resign, my resignation has not yet become effective."

David Woodward

Woodward stepped down from his position as board chairman to apply to be executive before running for the elected position in 2020. State law prohibits elected county commissioners from also seeking a paid position within the county. 

Woodward's actions threw more uncertainty into a process that has been dogged by controversy since shortly after Patterson, 80, died Aug. 3 of pancreatic cancer. With Woodward as a member, Democrats would again have an 11-10 majority on the board, which is scheduled to meet Friday and possibly choose a new county executive.

Since Patterson's death, his longtime chief deputy Gerald Poisson has been serving as county executive, and office spokesman Bill Mullan said Thursday that county employees had already acted on Woodward's Aug. 7 letter.

"Human resources had already processed his resignation and shut off his email and taken those steps," Mullan said. 

A 1986 opinion from then-Attorney General Frank Kelley found that a Bay City city commissioner who rescinded his resignation more than two weeks after submitting was able to do so because, per state law, a public official’s resignation must be officially accepted or a successor appointed to be effective. 

It's not clear if that opinion would still apply to Woodward’s position.

The Attorney General's Office likely would only weigh in on the situation in Oakland County if a complaint were made to local law enforcement or the local prosecutor that was then referred to the state office, said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Dana Nessel. 

Mike Gingell, R-Lake Orion, the GOP caucus leader on the Board of Commissioners, said he had heard from other commissioners that Woodward had rescinded his application for county executive and his resignation from the board in an effort to impact the appointment of a temporary county executive.

“It’s my understanding he has been told there is legal precedent for him coming back and will ask reinstatement as board chairman on Friday,” said Gingell. “If that happens, there would be an 11-10 Democratic majority on the board and if they voted together, could make an appointment for county executive.”

Poisson said he also had been informed of Woodward’s plan.

“I don’t know if it is legal or not,” said Poisson. “We will have to wait and see what happens. Right now, I am the county executive and plan to hold the office until the board names a replacement or a special election is held.”

Woodward, whose resignation left a 10-10 Republican and Democratic split on the board, interviewed Wednesday for county executive before a two-person committee. 

The committee initially was made of three people, but its lone Republican, Commissioner Thomas Middleton, abruptly left and declined to participate in the interviews, citing discomfort with the timeline of the selection process and the makeup of the board.

Middleton, noting the even party split on the Board of Commissioners, said the committee’s makeup — two Democrats and one Republican — was “biased” and “one-sided.”

That left Gershenson and Markham to interview Woodward and four other candidates: Huntington Woods Democrat Kevin Howley; Randy Hazel, an independent and quality manager at Dana Inc.; Tim Gossman, a Clarkston independent and broker who owns and operates Affinity Real Estate Group, and Julie Secontine, a Democrat who is the county’s former head of risk management and a former state fire marshal.

County Treasurer Andy Meisner, also a Democrat, expressed interest in running for the county executive job in March but said this week he would not file an application for board consideration because he felt that the position should be decided by the people, not by elected officials.

Earlier, controversy ensued when Republican Commissioner Shelley Taub texted her GOP colleagues on the board that they should "delete, delete, delete" any emails regarding Patterson and the search for his replacement. Taub, who faced calls to resign, apologized for sending the messages.

As the interviews went on, Republican Sheriff Michael Bouchard and two commissioners, Gingell and Robert Hoffman, R-Highland, said they favored appointing Poisson to complete Patterson's term.