Coulter's State of County: 'We have an opportunity to do better'
Pontiac — David Coulter is filling an unexpired term as Oakland County executive that expires in December, but on Wednesday night, he outlined long-term goals in his first State of the County address.
Among them: attracting more investment in defense and aerospace industries and helping more residents attain college degrees.
Coulter, on the job as the county’s top elected official for six months, also touched on job training, veterans benefits and health care in a speech labeled “Oakland Together.”
“I believe the fact that Oakland does well means we have an opportunity — indeed a responsibility — to do better,” Coulter said during his address at the Flagstar Strand Theatre.
“We can leverage our strengths to tackle our challenges before they become problems. We can lead and innovate. We can be fiscally responsible with taxpayer money and forward thinking.
"To do that, we must be Oakland Together," he said. "Together as public servants working for the public good, together with our residents and businesses, and together with our region.”
Coulter's hour-long address was delivered in front of nearly 800 guests, who greeted him with a standing ovation. The speech covered his accomplishments so far as well as what lies ahead in 2020, the county's bicentennial year.
"After hundreds of conversation and thousands of miles, I can tell you with confidence that the state of Oakland County in 2020 is strong," he said. "It’s determined. And it’s ready to celebrate and shine this year
Like his predecessor, longtime County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who died last August, Coulter stressed Oakland County's traditional positive attributes: efficient government, a balanced budget and a AAA bond rating; environmental stewardship; and a willingness to provide services for an aging population and make housing more affordable.
Coulter, 59, was appointed by the board of commissioners following a contentious process, to fill in the remainder of Patterson’s term. He has announced plans to run for a full four-year term. The former Ferndale mayor is the first Democrat to be Oakland County executive.
He pointed to accomplishments achieved in his half-year on the job with the support of the county board: raising the minimum wage for county workers to $15 an hour and enacting a non-discrimination policy to make residents and visitors alike feel welcome.
“This is the right thing to do morally and economically,” Coulter said. “Our businesses already understand the value of these policies in recruiting workers and serving their customers and we are catching up to the private sector.”
Coulter said the county is the economic leader of Michigan, producing nearly 30% of the state’s jobs.
“But good is not good enough for the type of county we all deserve,” Coulter said.
Among his plans to move Oakland County forward:
- Working with private consultants on a 10-year economic development strategy that “will ensure economic opportunity for all.”
- A Defense and Aerospace Initiative to grow contracts and jobs. He set a goal of $1 billion of investment by 2025 — three times the county’s current level.
- Moving the county’s Division of Community and Home Improvement and staff into offices in downtown Pontiac.
- An Oakland 80 education initiative, designed to ensure 80% of county adults have a post-secondary degree or industry credential by 2030.
- Using a state grant to ensure 60,000 county veteran and dependents are aware of federal, state and local benefits.
Coulter highlighted the county's partnership with Pontiac, which encouraged longtime residents such as Yvette Carson.
"He's not ignoring what the city stands for," she said after the event. "It's time for Pontiac to shine."
Coulter also repeated his commitment to an Oakland Health360 program, announced this week, to provide comprehensive, integrated health care to uninsured and under-insured residents. He is seeking board approval and funding to partner with the Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency for insurance, Head Start early childhood education, prescription drug assistance and emergency services.
“If you come in one of our doors to have your child immunized or receive a lead screening, I want you to be able to have a cancer or diabetes screening, talk to a mental health professional, get assistance with prescription drug costs, have a dental checkup and receive primary care,” Coulter said.
“We must ensure high school students obtain the financial assistance available to them, students who start college finish with a degree, and industry-recognized credentials are widely available,” Coulter said.
Beyond jobs, education and training, Coulter said he also was focused on preserving and improving Oakland's environment. Deputy County Executive April Lynch has been tasked with pursuing a sustainability effort similar to plans Coulter had in Ferndale, and the 2020 budget is slated to have money to ensure safe drinking stations in all schools, he said.
"We know the permanent solution is to get all levels of government to act with a sense of urgency," he said.
The approach to wide-ranging issues was a plus to Leona Patterson, a social worker in Pontiac who also runs a nutrition center. She believes Coulter's commitment to helping youths, seniors and the homeless shows "he really understands the needs. He's honest and he's willing to learn."
Coulter also announced the establishment of the Eric Overall Memorial Benefit to assist families of county employees who lose their lives while performing their jobs. Overall, an Oakland County sheriff’s deputy, died in November 2017 when he was struck by a car driven by a man fleeing police.
"This is a small statement to preserve their memory and honor their sacrifice," Coulter said.
J. David VanderVeen, director of central services for the county, was presented with the first Oakland County Lifetime Achievement Award. VanderVeen supervises several county departments plus the Oakland County International Airport and sits on the county’s parks and recreation board.
Coulter's vision impressed guests and friends, who frequently applauded during his remarks.
"Under his confident and capable leadership, Oakland County is coming together," said Glenn McIntosh, vice president for student affairs and chief diversity officer at Oakland University.
In a statement after the speech, Oakland County Commissioner William Miller said: “I am excited with the direction the county is moving. With job creation, equality and our welcoming initiative, the county is truly shaping into a place where all can live, work and play.”