Dave Coulter's journey from mayor of Ferndale to his appointment as Oakland County executive last year has been covered extensively by Between The Lines. In addition, the publishers of BTL endorsed him before the primary. With the general election drawing nearer, we checked in with Coulter to hear what he's been up to since the appointment and to let him make his case for the four-year term as county executive.
When he stepped into office 15 months ago, Coulter's first task — and challenge — was to assemble a team: As it happened, following former Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson's death, all of the existing deputies retired. He said he owes much of his success as executive thus far to the people that were willing to take a chance and go on the journey with him when they didn't know if the job would last beyond 16 months.
Coulter's tenure can be divided into two parts: first, pre-COVID-19. In just eight months, he said he's proud of what he accomplished with the help of the Democratic majority commission.
"Number one, we adopted the county's first-ever comprehensive nondiscrimination policy that covered not only our workforce, our contracting and vendors and all the ways we work as a county," Coulter said. "That had never happened, and it was long overdue. So getting that in place, I felt set the right tone for what we were trying to do, which is to make sure that we operate Oakland County in a fair and equitable manner.
"Along with that, we created the position — and eventually hired — the county's first-ever Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer … to make sure that we were looking at all of our policies and practices through this equity lens," he continued.
Even before George Floyd's murder, "we recognized from day one that that was going to be critical to our success."
Rounding out his top three successes before COVID-19 is Oakland Health 360, which aims to expand quality, affordable healthcare to every resident in the county. Soon residents will be able to get primary care along with mental and behavioral healthcare and other services all within the county's clinics. That should be fully up and running in three years.
Leading During the Pandemic
As the newly-appointed leader of the county, Coulter had the added challenge of navigating a response to the novel coronavirus.
"Like the governor, [we] leaned into the science of it and really worked closely with public health officials to make sure that we were doing everything we could to contain the virus and protect our residents," Coulter said. "Honestly, for me, that wasn't a hard decision to make, but we've all certainly seen parts of the state and country that did not take that perspective, and, I think, to their detriment."
Coulter called the public health orders "difficult but necessary" and credits the guidelines with "bringing our numbers down" in terms of fatalities from the virus.
"At the same time, Oakland County is in many ways the economic engine of Michigan, and it's important that businesses and jobs are happening here," Coulter said. "So we've now been working just as hard at making sure that our businesses can reopen and our people can go back to work in as safe a manner as possible, knowing that's not gonna look like it did before."
When it comes to goals for a four-year term, Coulter said managing the pandemic response remains his number one priority. Adopting a regional transit plan — something he and his fellow Democrats have attempted to bring to the county for years — is a close second.
Before the pandemic, a plan to change the original Regional Transit Authority map was thwarted by conservative Republicans in the state Legislature. But Coulter is ready to take on the issue again, with Macomb County having opted out but with a map that now includes Washtenaw County. If elected, and if the commission remains Democratic-led, a viable transit plan may be within reach.
Combating climate change ranks as another top goal. Coulter called it an existential problem and said he wants Oakland County to be a leader in the state in its response.
"We are in the process of developing a very robust response for Oakland County to reduce our carbon footprint and move to renewable energy sources," Coulter explained. "We're gonna do that not only on our county government campus, but I want to incentivize our local communities to take similar actions. The plan isn't completed yet, but we did get the funds put into the budget so that we could begin that work."
For a few months following his appointment, there was much speculation about whether Coulter would run for a full term. Here's what he had to say about that:
"I love the job because of the opportunity to work on these issues that are so important to me. I never intended to just keep the seat warm. I didn't know in the beginning if I wanted to run or not. But once I had my team together and we established a relationship with the board of commissioners was really good and I knew we could make a difference on these big things, then the ability to be part of that, and help drive that kind of change in Oakland County, was what really attracted me to want to stick around."
Learn more about Coulter online at: davecoulter.com.