Finley: Brooks' legacy is already at risk

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Listening to eulogists pay tribute to the transparent, efficient and taxpayer-focused government that L. Brooks Patterson built in Oakland County over the past 27 years, I couldn't ignore the irony that just a few miles away, a pack of self-serving rats were already chewing away at his legacy.

The underhanded dealing to determine who will replace Patterson as county executive began as soon as he died on Aug. 3, and should make residents uneasy about how quickly their county could become ordinary or worse, instead of the good government pace-setter it's been under his leadership.

Jennifer Llewellyn, left, comforts fellow Oakland County employee Jamie Fenner during the visitation for the late Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson at Woodside Bible Church in Troy on Thursday, August 15, 2019.

The ham-handed plotting revolved around Dave Woodward's move to give himself a head-start on the 2020 balloting. Woodward resigned from his post as chair of the county commission, as required by law, and began cutting deals with his fellow commissioners to assure his appointment as interim county executive.

With his absence, the board was split 10-10 between between Republicans and Democrats. That required Democrat Woodward to woo at least one Republican to his cause. Rumors of unsavory bargains being struck with the GOP were fueled by an email from GOP member Shelley Taub urging her fellow commissioners to "Delete, Delete, Delete" in anticipation of an investigation.

The scheme blew up after the shenanigans leaked out. Woodward then claimed his finger never left the checker, and rescinded his resignation. That claim is being challenged in court, which could invalidate the board's decision to name Ferndale's Democratic mayor as interim executive.

This is not Brooks Patterson's Oakland County. And it's likely to become even less so if the same voters who gave Democrats control of the county commission in 2018 extend their mistake to the county executive's office in 2020.

Oakland County residents have prided themselves on not being like Wayne County or Detroit, where such wheeling and dealing as was witnessed over the past week in Pontiac would surprise no one.

But Oakland County didn't become Oakland County by accident. Though Patterson was a political genius and a powerful force in the Republican Party, partisan politics never drove his decision-making.

He stood up to Republican governors on numerous occasions when he felt they were short-changing Oakland County. He didn't cut deals that cheated his residents for his own benefit. And he filled county positions with the best and brightest, not the best connected.

It's hard to imagine any of the rascals who participated in last week's attempted power play continuing those traditions.

The priorities of a leader matter. Brooks was committed to doing everything possible to keep Oakland County's stellar bond rating, which is higher than that of the United States' and nearly 200 other countries. 

He also fiercely guarded Oakland's reputation as a good place to do business, and maintained it with policies aimed at encouraging job creation and economic development.

Public employee unions never had the influence in Oakland that they have in Wayne County and Detroit. And yet his innovative strategy to bond out future legacy costs assures the retirement benefits of county employees are the most secure in the state.

There may not be another Brooks Patterson out there. But Oakland County voters who want to maintain what he built should do their damndest to get as close as they can. 

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.