Finley: Thanks and goodbye to Brooks' team
Oakland County lost its brains last week.
The talented team that surrounded county Executive L. Brooks Patterson and made Oakland perhaps the best-run municipal government in America filed retirement papers and quietly left the administrative building.
Their departure blows as big a hole in the hallmark stability of Oakland County as did the Aug. 3 death of Patterson, who led the county with their help for 27 years.
The departure of Robert Daddow, the deputy county executive who implemented a raft of innovative governing practices, including three-year budgeting, privatization efforts that saved $2.5 million a year, and the modernization of IT operations, is a loss for all of Michigan.
Daddow's hobby was diving deep into government legacy costs and other unmet liabilities and surfacing with the evidence that we're all going to hell in a handbasket. Never talk to Daddow if you're having a bad day — his brutal forecasts of future financial ruin won't make you feel better.
Patterson loaned him out to assist Oakland's struggling neighbors, and his work helped Wayne County avoid a state takeover. He was often Oakland's able point man on regional efforts, including the Great Lakes Water Authority.
Gerald Poisson, who was Patterson's No. 2 and steered the ship during the executive's illness, was with Patterson since his days as Oakland County prosecutor. Poisson was perfectly attuned to his boss' vision, and it was up to him to implement the endless innovations that came to Patterson in the middle of the night.
Had the Oakland County Commission been less partisan, it would have kept him as interim executive until voters could choose a replacement.
Leaving with her colleagues is Laurie VanPelt, the director of management and budget. VanPelt was Patterson's budget wizard. She made the numbers work. Without her fiscal discipline, maintaining a three-year balanced budget would have been impossible.
VanPelt was brilliant at anticipating softness in future revenue and making the adjustments necessary to avert a crisis, something Oakland County never experienced during Patterson's tenure.
Information technology is Phil Bertolini's official area of responsibility as a deputy county executive, but that was only the start of what he did for Patterson. He brought cyber systems to Oakland County that are the envy of institutions both inside and outside of government. If Bertolini built a system, it worked.
He also was among Patterson's most trusted advisers on all matters. Patterson frequently mentioned him as the person who should replace him. Bertolini hasn't stepped down yet, but has signaled he'll do so by the end of August.
To his credit, David Coulter, who was named interim county executive by the county commission last week, tried to keep some, if not all of the team on board for awhile. But they were so turned off by the sleazy manner in which the commission chose an interim successor that they decided to cash it in.
These folks are not politicians. They were true public servants who took Patterson's already considerable brain power and magnified it by a factor of 10. Their departures should not go without a thank you.