Since arriving in Oakland in the early 1970's, I have had the good fortune of observing first hand as this county took its rightful place as the economic engine that helped drive the state of Michigan.
When I arrived the county was just switching to the county executive form of government in 1974, with election of long-time chairman of the county board of auditors, Dan Murphy, considered by many as one of the founding fathers of Oakland as we know it today. Murphy was a steady and seasoned mechanic as I like to call it, having basically run Oakland for the past 10 years. He fought the necessary legal battles with the county board of commissioners as the first elected county executive in the state to help define the form of government we have now.
When Murphy suffered from a stroke in 1992,
L. Brooks Paterson took over as county executive. He continued much of the work of Murphy, like expanding the county park systems and establishing the 911 emergency system. But he also brought a certain talent, no doubt honed during his 16 years as county prosecutor, which allowed for a certain bravado which helped propel Oakland County onto a much larger stage as the center of growth in the state, which was lacking in previous years.
Over the years I have been a strong supporter of Patterson, with a few exceptions on some issues, like his support of the death penalty, raiding a movie house showing 'Last Tango In Paris' or his opposition to the Pontiac school bussing – the issue on which he originally built his name – and more recently his almost blind allegiance to the far right GOP stand on the immigration issue. And, yes, like many others, I cringe at some of this less-than-politically correct statements in recent years.
But overall he, along with the team he has assembled, still remains the reason we enjoy a solidly managed county, in good and challenging times. It goes without saying that he has done the county well with his development of such programs as Automation Alley, making Oakland the center of the medical industry, just to name a couple of his efforts that have bolstered the county now and for the future.
I also have great respect for Patterson's willingness to break with party platform on select issues or point out party failings when necessary. I particularly appreciate the fact that Patterson pushed Oakland to the forefront where we can influence public policy far beyond the county borders, be it in Lansing or Washington.
Which bring us back on this circuitous route to the point of my message this month – my hope that Patterson will lend his voice and provide leadership on one of the more important issues facing us and the country – global warming. Ever more critical since our current president has decided to withdraw the United States from the Paris Accord. Never mind the agreement was signed by 190 nations that were willing to cut greenhouse gas emissions and work to create a clean energy economy in the years ahead.
Global warming is one of those topics that has all the makings of a litmus test issue for certain factions in the Republican Party. You can believe or lean more toward the position that we can improve and extend the life of our planet. Or you write it off as junk science, at least questionable at best. You might argue that any attempt to reduce the rising temperatures threatens our economy as we know it.
The division on this and other environmental issues is nothing new. I can almost hear the debate and occasional derisive comment as a kid about the neighbors across the street who were early supporters of Rachael Carson, marine biologist and environmentalist whose studies on insecticides developed, as an outgrowth of World War II military funding of sciences, have been credited with the the banning of DDT. Also credit her as the author of The Silent Spring, the first longform piece (NewYorker) relative to chemical threats to our health, often viewed as helping fuel the environmental movement in the 1960s that eventually led Richard Nixon to create in 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency. You know, the federal agency the current administration and congressional lapdogs are trying to hamstring and neutralize, if not eliminate.
The two camps in those days either insisted, on conclusive evidence, that spraying DDT was a health threat or those who were sufficiently convinced and sought other ways of controlling nature. Much like the debate nowadays.
As of June 16, there were 311 mayors in this country, a couple of states and some leading national/international companies who have publicly pledged to honor the Paris Accord's climate goals. Fifteen Michigan mayors – including those in Pleasant Ridge, Royal Oak and Ferndale – have signed on to promise their communities will ignore the short-sighted move of withdrawing from the agreement.
Which is where Patterson comes in. Oakland needs to take a leadership role. Show a united front county-wide. Bring the various local community leaders together and find a path for Oakland County to be at the forefront on this critical issue. Who knows – we might find a new business category – clean energy – for potential development in the county. We might even develop a partnership of tri-county leaders willing to address this issue.
Without a doubt this would be a fitting part of the legacy for L. Brooks Patterson. But we need action now.