Carol Cain Free Press Business Columnist
Published 6:30 AM EDT Aug 24, 2019
David Coulter had been planning on attending a few ribbon cuttings and other community events this week as mayor of Ferndale, a town of 20,000, in a job he’s held since 2011.
But destiny stepped in, aided by some old-fashioned politics.
Coulter, a Democrat, earlier this month was anointed by the Democratically controlled Oakland County Commission as the new county executive. The high-profile job catapults him into the region’s “Big Four” political leaders, joining Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans.
Coulter will hold his first meeting Monday with his new staff to talk about his vision and the future.
“It’s understandable (some) people are concerned,” said Coulter, who stepped into the role held the past 26 years by L. Brooks Patterson, the Republican leader who built something of a dynasty. Patterson died of pancreatic cancer on Aug. 3 at the age of 80.
Coulter now oversees a staff of 6,000 full- and part-timers, many of whom never worked for a boss other than Patterson.
Coulter told me he didn’t ask for the job nor did he campaign for it (unlike others including David Woodward, the Oakland County commissioner who resigned from the board after Patterson’s death, presumably thinking he had the support of the board to take over the job. When he realized that was not the case, he rescinded his resignation and rejoined the board.
More: Drama continues in Oakland County executive search: ‘Backroom politics at its worst’
More: David Coulter sworn in as Oakland County executive
Oakland County Republicans have sued, calling the commissioners’ proceedings illegal and asking that the appointment be overturned.
“I had nothing to do with any of it,” Coulter told me during taping of CBS 62’s “Michigan Matters.”
“They reached out to me” Coulter said of the commissioners. “I had been a commissioner a few years ago and knew Oakland County.”
It didn’t take much arm twisting. He now oversees the second largest county in Michigan with 1.2 million people and a budget of $950 million.
Coulter grew up in St. Clair Shores, attended Bishop Gallagher High School and moved to Ferndale some 30 years ago.
His first week has been eventful, with three of his five deputy county executives retiring (Gerald Poisson, Robert Daddow and Laurie Van Pelt, who collectively had more than 100 years of county experience).
“I understand why,” Coulter said. “They’ve been with him a long time. They’ve been through a lot with Brooks being sick and were ready to retire.”
I asked if any might be involved on a contract basis, “I talked with Gerry. We’re still talking.”
Building his team
With 16 months until Patterson’s term ends and a new county executive is elected, Coulter knows he has to hit the ground running.
“Picking a good team of people around me is important,’ he said. “Brooks had great people around him. But this is about more than just the deputies. There are nine directors who are critically important too.”
Also vital: finding quick replacements for Oakland County representatives on regional organizations of SMART, Regional Transit Authority and Great Lakes Water Authority.
“Hilarie (Chambers) is going to be helping with that,” he said of his newly named chief deputy executive, who will start Aug. 29. He’s known her longer than 20 years. She worked for former U.S. Rep. Sander Levin and is leaving her job as chief of staff for Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
He’s also focusing on making sure the county’s budget is approved by the commissioners by the end of September. “Brooks and his team submitted a budget, and no doubt there will be some amendments to it by the commissioners, which is usually the case.”
“I want people to know I want their ideas,” he said. “I’m willing to really listen. It doesn’t matter if it comes from the Democrats or Republicans.”
Will he run?
Hackel, who also stepped into the job of county executive as a newbie, had advice for Coulter.
“Be who you are, be authentic,” he said. “Make sure to listen to the right people. Don’t get pulled in by the special interests.”
Coulter told me he’ll continue with Patterson’s charge of making Oakland an attractive place for business. He’ll pay particular interest to small businesses and entrepreneurs.
“I borrowed Brooks’ idea of his business roundtable and created one in Ferndale, which has helped the city improve dramatically,” he said.
While Oakland has had an enviable AAA-credit rating from Wall Street for years, Ferndale has improved but it isn’t quite there.
“I came in as mayor at the end of the recession,” he said. “Our revenues were down. We had to work really hard.”
Ferndale’s credit rating has been upgraded twice during Coulter’s tenure.
“It makes a difference when you go to borrow money for projects” he said.
“We were doing so well we ran out of parking space downtown. We went to Wall Street to borrow money and are now in the process of building a new parking garage.”
Coulter recently had decided it was time to move on as mayor and was thinking about running for state representative. However, the conversation has changed.
“Now, everyone keeps asking me if I am going to run for Oakland County executive,” he said. “I told the commissioners when I took this job I was only interested in serving out the term. At the moment, that’s my focus.”
Contact Carol Cain: 313-222-6732 or [email protected] She is senior producer/host of “Michigan Matters,” which airs 11:30 a.m. Sundays on CBS 62. See David Coulter, Scott LaRiche, Hydroplane driver Andrew Tate and Mark Weber on this Sunday’s show.
- O'Connor takes reins in Kildare
- Ryanair names HR chief to take reins as O'Leary moves up
- Pauw facing big challenges with domestic game as she takes reins
- Melton’s Pam Posnett takes up top county council role
- Live updates as excitement builds for Take That concert
- Boris prepares to take reins of power as he assembles top team
- Daughter leaves job to take reins at family business
- Greene King profits to hold steady as new CEO takes reins
- Young production team takes on an iconic musical in Honiton
- Central relay team takes crown at Hartford Invite