Oakland Co. executive race focuses on jobs, health care

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Pontiac — For the first time in 28 years, Oakland County voters on Nov. 3 will elect a new county executive.

The seat was held by Republican L. Brooks Patterson from 1992 until he died in August 2019. The county Board of Commissioners voted to appoint David Coulter to replace Patterson, making the former Ferndale mayor the first Democrat to occupy the position.

The county's electorate will vote twice for executive on the Nov. 3 ballot. One race is to fill the remainder of Patterson's term, which expires in January, and the other is for a four-year term.

Both Coulter and his Republican opponent, former state Sen. Mike Kowall of Walled Lake, said if they're elected they'll focus on attracting business to the county and expanding residents' access to health care.

Oakland County voters will also choose a new county prosecutor, with either Democrat Karen McDonald or Republican Lin Goetz replacing three-term incumbent Jessica Cooper, who was defeated in the August primary election.

If elected, McDonald promises to work to revamp the cash bail system, which she says unfairly punishes poor defendants, while Goetz says one of her first orders of business would be to install a Public Integrity Unit to look at wrongful conviction claims.

Other issues to be decided by county voters include Birmingham’s $11.2 million bond issue to renovate parks and the Birmingham Ice Sports Arena, Walled Lake’s charter amendment to limit the city manager's tenure to 10 years and a Lake Orion proposal to allow marijuana facilities. 

Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter, left, and  Former State Sen. Mike Kowall, right.

Coulter was Ferndale mayor for nine years and served two terms as a county commissioner representing Ferndale before his August 2019 appointment as county executive. He said if he's elected to a full term, his first priority would be to continue addressing the COVID-19 emergency.

"The first thing still has to be the pandemic; it's not over, and I don't think it's close to being over yet, so from a health perspective, and an economic perspective, continuing to lead the county through COVID is still a huge priority for me," Coulter said. 

Kowall said he wanted to continue the "good work" Patterson did.

"I'll make sure the direction Brooks had the county pointed in is upheld," he said. "That means making sure funding isn't spent in frivolous ways, and having a good economic development team to attract new businesses — and I don't mean poaching from Detroit or Macomb, but working together to strengthen the region."

Coulter said his economic strategy would focus on trying to attract business from the aerospace and defense industries.

"We miss out on a lot of contracts there because we don't promote very well," he said.

Both county executive candidates said getting residents access to better health care is a priority.

"We're already working to expand health care to more residents by expanding our health clinic, and the things we do there," Coulter said. "That's more important than ever since the pandemic."

Kowall said his focus would be on veterans' health care.

"I’d like to see a VA facility built here in the county in conjunction and a mental health facility," he said. "Talk to (Oakland County Sheriff) Mike Bouchard and he'll tell you two-thirds of his jail inmates should be in mental health facilities."

Kowall said another priority would be to fix the aging infrastructure in the southern portion of the county.

"They have major sewer and water issues in southern Oakland County; every time it rains, it floods," Kowall said. "I imagine people are getting tired of it."

Birmingham voters will decide whether to approve an $11.3 million bond to improve several parks, playgrounds, the Rouge River trail system, "and additional amenities including potentially a pickleball court and splash pad," according to the city's website. 

"In addition, projects may include capital improvement upgrades within our parks system, such as an expanded irrigation system at Springdale Golf Course and new locker and meeting rooms at the Birmingham Ice Arena," the city's website said.

In Lake Orion, voters will decide whether to adopt an ordinance governing medical and recreational marijuana facilities. If passed, the measure would establish standards and procedures to permit and regulate the businesses, allow the village to impose permit application fees, and provide penalties for violations.

Walled Lake voters will decide whether to adopt a charter amendment to limit a city manager's service time to 10 years.


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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN