The Interview: County Executive David Coulter
Oakland County is in the midst of change – after 27 years as county executive, L. Brooks Patterson passed away last August, leaving a unique legacy and hole to fill at the top of the administrative tower. After political maneuvering and shenanigans on the part of both Republicans and Democrats, a surprise arose as the newly chosen one – Ferndale mayor Dave Coulter – became the first Democrat to ever fill the county executive seat and the first openly gay individual to hold a top leadership position in Oakland County government. But in the last decade, Oakland has been changing demographically and with it has come political change in elected offices – everything from two long-held Republican congressional seats flipping blue, to several state House and Senate districts, and for the first time in its over 40-year history, in 2018 the Oakland County Board of Commissioners achieved a one-vote Democrat majority. Right now, of the top elected county positions, only Sheriff Michael Bouchard is a Republican. Coulter, who some Democrats felt would be a “place holder” until Patterson's term expired in 2020, is a reflection of the changes sweeping the county. He is collegial, conciliatory, open and eager. He is running to keep his new seat in 2020, in what will likely be a hotly-contested Democratic primary against Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner. At the same time, he is fully cognizant that his may be a brief term. He is excited to be the Oakland County executive, whether it is for 16-months or for another four years, and recognizes the historic opportunity his appointment represents to follow the legacy of Brooks Patterson – to preserve the best that Oakland County represents while moving forward and creating new initiatives. In his first long published interview, edited for space, Coulter spoke with Downtown News Editor Lisa Brody. DOWNTOWN: When your name first surfaced as a possible appointment as county executive, it was billed as a political compromise. Dave Woodward, who was expected to run and had told us he was planning to run for the executive spot in 2020, withdrew his application for the appointment. And county treasurer Andy Meisner, an announced 2020 candidate for the spot at the time, had not sought the appointment and was pushing for a special election instead of the appointment. In fact, last summer, you had already announced you were running for the Michigan House. Now you have announced that you are not just a place holder, so to speak, but will be running for the county executive post. What prompted the change in your position? COULTER: I want to qualify that. I don’t think it was a change in my position. I never said when I got the appointment I wouldn’t run or how long I would do it for. It happened so quickly, there wasn’t time to even have those conversations. I literally found out that they were seriously considering appointing me two days before the appointment. They said, ‘hey, you know, we have to make this appointment on Friday. We just realized that (county commission board chair) Dave Woodward can rescind his resignation and rejoin the board, which means that the Democrats now have the authority and the ability to make the appointment.’ It was 10 to 10. So that to me would have been a true compromise candidate. That’s where I thought they were headed when Dave resigned. I thought they’re going to have to figure out how 10 people on one side and 10 on the other are going to have to navigate this. So I, like you and everyone else, was just watching from the sidelines and going – how are 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats going to come together and decide? What I assumed would happen is that they wouldn’t be able to come up with a compromise candidate, And what the law said if they didn’t make the appointment in 30 days, then Jerry Poisson would stay until the end of next year – he’d have been in this seat. What changed everything was Dave being able to rescind his resignation just a few days before the appointment. They started talking among themselves and saying, ‘Is there someone in the county that all eleven Democrats would agree to?’ I’ve worked with some of them, but not all of them. It could’ve been anyone. It could have been Andy. It could have been Dave. So that’s when they reached out to me and said, look, your name has been thrown out there. But before we talk much further, is this something you’d be willing to do and consider? DOWNTOWN: So did you have to consider it a bit or did you jump at it, so to speak. COULTER: That’s a good question. I said, I have to get back to you. Let me think about that. I said yes. I’m open to it. But at no point in the two days did we talk about, what about next year? It was all about Friday. Would you be willing to take this appointment? But what became clear on Friday when the appointment happened, is how many commissioners on that day were expressing their desire for me to announce that day that I would run. In fact, Nancy Quarles (D-Lathrup Village) and a couple other commissioners actually said at the meeting, I think that it’s important for us to appoint someone who is interested in serving beyond next year because it potentially could give you a leg up for next year.
And I said, whoa. You have to give me more time to think about that. I haven’t thought about next year. And it has surprised me, frankly, just how since day one that has been a question that I got almost every day. There’s a lot that is entailed in taking over a job like this and making sure that this transition goes well. I was very deliberate about that. And I know there’s been some folks who have said, nope, you promised that you wouldn’t do it. That was always my intent, just get in the role, see how it goes, if it’s a good fit, see if I feel like I’m the right fit for it and do that for a while. And we had a couple of really important things to do right away. The most important of which was the budget. It was due in three weeks from my appointment.
DOWNTOWN: Was it partially done? COULTER: Yes. (late county executive L.) Brooks (Patterson) had submitted his budget to the commission in July. So the commission had his budget, the finance committee had begun its hearings. But frankly, when Brooks passed, a lot of that was sort of paused, appropriately so. We literally had three weeks. I said, I think it’s really important that we do what we’ve always done in Oakland County, which is to pass the budget unanimously. I think it sends the right message to our residents and to the bond rating agencies and to the world that we can work on big things together. And the biggest thing we do is the budget. So I said I’d like a unanimous budget. Well, that got some interesting responses because it’s an 11 to 10 board, and my appointment wasn’t unanimous. There was still a lot of angst around some of that. And there were people saying to me, you should really stop saying that because it might not be unanimous. So I dove right into the budget process and got to work on that. At the same time, I had to get a leadership team in place because most of Brooks’s deputy executives chose to use that opportunity to retire. I had two immediate priorities, which was the budget and picking a leadership team. One of the things I’m proudest of in my five-and-a-half months, or however long I’ve been here, is the fact that we did get the budget. We met with Republicans, we met with Democrats, we worked really hard. It was not simple. And keep in mind, if you’re going to get all the Republicans out there, there are some things that maybe some Democrats wanted that can’t be in this budget. So it wasn’t a matter of just what’s going to be in the budget, but what isn’t going to be there. I’m really proud of the fact that we got the budget passed, a three-year balanced budget with a unanimous vote of the commission. I take a lot of pride in that. It was not simple. I think it helped to set the right message that after 27 years of a Republican administration and Brooks Patterson in particular, who was the face of this county for so long, that even in his absence we can still do the most important thing that we do together. And we did that. At the same time, I’m really proud of the leadership team that I was able to put together. The challenge for me was I can only promise these people a 16-month assignment. I’m only guaranteed to be here for 16 months. So how do I get really good, smart, talented people replacing some people with 30 years of experience and lots of knowledge. And I know that that’s one thing that I’m going to be judged on, is what kind of a leadership team I put in place. That was also really critical to me. I wanted the best people I could find. I feel like I overshot – I have people who were maybe more than qualified for these positions. But I also realized that I needed to look for people that had some background and passion for public service, that if I was going to convince a really good experienced person to come work with me, they were going to also just have to have an internal desire to see this, like I see this, as this amazing opportunity to help lead a transformation in Oakland County and a transition, even if it might just be 16 months. DOWNTOWN: One of the strengths in the Patterson administration was its team of advisors/deputy executives, including what many considered the top financial advisors. So you recently brought on board two financial advisors as well as as Hilarie Chambers. Can you tell us something about them and their duties and is your executive team now complete? COULTER: I am bustling with pride to talk about them. By law, I get five deputy executives and they can be used however one chooses to use them. When people talked about Brooks’s appointees and leadership team, a lot of the focus was on those five. But there’s another layer beneath that, which is every director of a department in Oakland County is also an appointee of the county executive. I think it’s 21 or 22. Most of them are still the same. So even though there’s been a lot of attention to the fact that the deputy executives left, most of those are still there running the departments and doing the data. DOWNTOWN: Tell us why you chose to keep many of them. It seems like you’re really a consensus builder and somebody who wants to have continuity and not just upset the apple cart for the sake of doing that. COULTER: And that’s why. I could have come in here and broomed all of those folks out and said, nope, I’m going to get my own team of loyalists to me. But I don’t want people that are just loyal to me. I want to I want people that are loyal and passionate about Oakland County. And especially at that director level – these are day-to-day managers of some very specific areas, like I.T., for instance. We have an outstanding director by the name of Mike Timm, who knows I.T. better than I ever will. And for the most part, these are not political people. I don’t know or care what their political persuasions are, frankly. I met with each one of them one-on-one to just get a sense of what they were interested in doing, if they wanted to stay on in this administration, what they saw as the challenges and opportunities in their area. I don’t care about their politics. What’s your knowledge and what’s your perspective of your area that you oversee; where do you think the opportunities are? There’s some really strong individuals in those positions. There was no reason for me to to replace them. I’m not asking them to be political. I’m asking them to continue the good work that they’ve done. DOWNTOWN: Otherwise, you’re throwing out so much institutional wisdom. COULTER: Yeah, exactly. And especially since we’ve lost an amount of that at the deputy level. I didn’t want to lose it at the director level. And there was no reason to. I’m very conscious of the fact that I am in a transitional moment where I do want to preserve the continuity of the things that we do really well, because there’s a lot of things that Oakland County does really well. We’re known for our budgeting practices; we’re known for our economic development. We’re known for our outstanding I.T. department in the work they do. And in public health and all of those things. My first job is to not screw up anything. I’m going to look for areas where we can improve and grow. But my first job is to make sure it’s not just to to change things for the sake of change. DOWNTOWN: Does your holding of the post for a year prior to the Democratic primary this August give you an advantage over challengers such as county treasurer Andy Meisner?
COULTER: Well, it gives you a different perspective. I was a county commissioner for eight years. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the job was. But this is the kind of job that until you sit here and see the decisions that come across your desk, and you understand both the issues that get a lot of publicity and the many issues that are just internal. You don’t really know what it’s like until you’re here. I have a comfort level today that I didn’t have five months ago, or even three months ago, in terms of I get what’s required. I know what I need to do to be successful in this role. And I have the confidence that my experience, both as county commissioner, where I learned county government, and my experience as mayor has prepared me for this. In some ways being mayor has been even more helpful because when you’re the mayor, it’s more of an executive role. It’s a real decision-making role, whereas county commissioner is more of a legislative role. When you’re in the main executive seat and you have to, on a daily basis, make decisions that are important and you have to make them quickly and you have to make them with the best people you can to surround yourself, that’s a different skill set. This may sound hokey, but you have to be crystal clear about what your leadership and value your leadership style and your values, because you get called to make decisions based on those often. DOWNTOWN: So let’s go back to your executive team. Tell us about them. COULTER: Hilarie Chambers plays the role formerly played by (former chief deputy) Jerry Poisson. She’s the chief deputy. It’s a chief of staff role. She, even more so than the other deputies, is the utility infielder. When things pop up quickly and we’re not even sure what area they belong to or who it’s going to impact – she triages those issues and makes sure that we have the right people responding to them. For more than 25 years, she was the chief of staff to (former) Congressman Sandy Levin (D-Royal Oak), primarily working out of his D.C. office. Some people in Michigan don’t know her as well because she lived in Virginia and she worked there, although she was in Michigan often because she oversaw his Michigan district office as well as his D.C. office. I knew her to be just a really outstanding administrator and strategist. No one outworks Hilarie. She knows when an issue arises who needs to be brought in and who we need to hear from and who we need to be communicating with and all of those things. I had a trust level with her. And when Sandy Levin retired, she came back to Michigan to live because this is where her roots are. She took a job for a brief period of time as the CEO of a small non-profit called Reading Works, an adult literacy organization. She got recruited away by Jocelyn Benson when she became secretary of state to become her chief of staff. Then I enticed her away. I know she really enjoyed her time at the secretary of state’s office. And she was really enjoying the issues that she was getting to start to dig into. I think the only reason I was able to persuade her is that, you know, we’ve become friends over the years. Hilarie saw, as I did, the opportunity to be part of something historic. This is a moment in time, you know. I was often asked by some friends, why would you say yes to this? It might only be for a year and a half; the whole political process was ugly and you could get sucked into that. And my response was this is an opportunity that no one else is going to have to follow an icon like Brooks Patterson, and to both preserve the great things that have been done and yet help lead the transition to what comes next – it’s just a once in a lifetime opportunity. And at my age, I don’t know how many more of those I would ever have. Hilarie had the same passion because of her public background in public service. DOWNTOWN: Tell us about the two economic deputies. COULTER: Based on the talent that we were losing, I knew that I was going to need economic development expertise. I was also going to need somebody with HR experience. We did a compensation study a couple of years ago that had not been rolled out and it had sort of been this rocky kind of thing, where were we going to implement the comp study? Are we not going to? There was a lot of expectation on the part of employees that this is going to get rolled out, but a lot of anxiety about what it meant. There were some union contracts that were open that needed to be resolved. We’re rolling out what is called Workday, which is, on the one hand, it’s just a piece of software. But on the other hand, it’s going to transform the way our employees do their jobs and interact with the county in terms of human resources, interaction with the county. It’s transformation and it’s going to bring Oakland County into the 21st century in terms of the way we do our H.R. stuff with our employees. There’s an I.T. component that goes with that. April Lynch was my city manager. I hired her in Ferndale as my city manager. She’s an outstanding administrator. Her expertise is in HR because she has a masters in it. Just sort of dumb luck that she had left Ferndale in February to take the job of vice president of human resources at University of Detroit Mercy. I heard through the grapevine that she might be interested in talking to me about this. So I didn’t take her out for coffee – I brought her to this office. Let me show her what an awesome place this is that she can be working. I’ve met with April and talked to her about the wonderful foundation, also the opportunity to put your fingerprints in a new transformational way in some areas that were really needed. And that excited her. And I was able to convince her to come join me. On economic development, Sean Carlson is someone I knew of. Hilarie worked closely with him and some other folks I know worked closely with him. He worked in the Granholm administration; he oversaw their contracts in procurement. And then after that, he was at the MEDC, which oversees career development for the last seven years. We were able to convince him to come join us on this journey as well. And then Rudy Hobbs. I don’t know...he’s got sort of the most multi-level experience. He worked for (Rep.) Sandy Levin as his district manager in Michigan, that’s where I got to know him first. But then he ran for Congress and was not successful. He was a state representative from Southfield (2010-2014). So he had that federal experience with Sandy, he was a state rep for four years. He understood how Lansing worked, how Washington worked. And then he was chief of staff for Wayne County Executive Warren Evans. And we knew that we needed to build our government and community relations here. I want us to have good relationships both in the region and within the cities in the county. And somebody like Rudy is just natural for that. So I got him. So there we are. The final piece that we put in place was a budget expert. And that proved challenging because you’ve got to get somebody who is at a high skill level. You have to get somebody who’s really knowledgeable and credible in that area...That proved challenging, to get somebody who would make that jump. Bob Klein was the state treasurer of Michigan. And Mitch Bean was with the House fiscal agency. He was the guy who made sure that all the bills they passed in Lansing were budgeted for appropriately and that there was the funds and all of those things. We call them advisors because they’re not technical employees of ours, but they’re providing us with the budget and financial expertise to make sure we make good budgeting decisions going forward. DOWNTOWN: You recently announced the creation of a new position – Diversity Officer. What do you hope to accomplish with the creation of this position in your administration? COULTER: I will say that this is something that the board of commissioners has been interested in for the last several years but that they hadn’t been successful in creating the position. I wanted their input on what they saw, but I also have my own perspective that the diversity of this county, both internally among our own employee workforce, but also the diversity of the residents and population here, are a real strength of ours. And I’m not sure we’ve always acknowledged that and used it to our fullest advantage. One example, and I use this but there’s lots of them like this, but when I was doing an event in Troy, someone shared with me a statistic that said 27 percent of the residents that live in Troy are foreign-born. That surprised me. I know there are strong ethnic populations there. The folks who are there, they’re an asset to our economy. Many of them have high degrees beyond a bachelor’s degree, they’re business owners or working in important industries. And looking around the county, there’s lots of those kinds of examples. And so how do we integrate that opportunity into our economic development strategy? How do we make sure that we’re tapping into those communities and lifting them up? Part of that is making sure that everyone, regardless of where you were born, feels welcome in Oakland County and is invited to the table. The feedback I’ve gotten is that some folks have not always felt that. I want to make sure that that welcome mat is laid out for everyone. This person is going to have an overall responsibility to directly report to me to make sure that both in our internal practices and in our relationships with our communities and the organizations that serve this community, that we are recognizing and respecting and coordinating with the communities that help make this such a great and diverse community. And that’ll be their primary responsibility. DOWNTOWN: Oakland County has long been renown for its financial success and stewardship – whether its long-term AAA bond ratings, three-year budgets or innovative initiatives such as Automated Alley, Medical MainStreet, and others. There are concerns by some that you will not maintain the financial prowess of the county and not maintain Oakland County’s prosperity. How do you address that issue, and what are some of your thoughts and proposals for the coming year? If given the mandate in 2020, what would you like to do in Oakland County? And what is your vision for the next four years? COULTER: Let me start by saying one of the things that was impressed on me during my eight years as a county commissioner is the budgeting practices of Oakland County. I was on the finance committee for most of that time. I understand and respect the importance of the three-year budgeting cycle that we use. I understand the value of the triple-A bond rating. And the first thing I did in my first meeting as mayor of Ferndale is instruct our finance director to begin to prepare a multi-year budget. We started it with two-year. By the time I left, it was a three-year budgeting practice that we used there. We’re looking five years out in Ferndale. For those who are afraid that I don’t respect that. Believe me, I respect it. We drank the Kool-Aid because I know how it works. Now, it’s not a panacea. It doesn’t make revenue fall from the sky and it doesn’t wave a magic wand and make budgets get balanced. But what the magic of it is that it helps you see problems sooner so that you can begin to react to them sooner so instead of having a financial crisis, you have a challenge early on that you had two or three years to begin to prepare for. I think that the other benefit of it is that it makes budgeting simpler, because when the passing of the budget is the most important thing that the county commission does every year. In Ferndale, I asked when I got there, what’s our bond rating? Because the AAA-bond rating was also burned into my brain. And honestly, a lot of people didn’t know. They had to go ask the finance director who ended up asking somebody what it was. It’s just to say that it’s not always the top of mind in a lot of places. But I knew it was top of mind here and I knew why. And we weren’t AAA, but we had decent bond rating. DOWNTOWN: And so it’s a priority to maintain it for you here. COULTER: And it’s an absolute priority for me to maintain it here. We’re actually underway now, working with our staff, to get a presentation together that we’re going to take to the bond rating agencies in New York, and let them know that even though there has been a transition in leadership here, our budgeting philosophy and practices are the same. If I am fortunate enough to have another four years, we will continue three-year budgeting and focus on the bond rating. But we’re also looking for areas of opportunity. The world changes. And we have to be anticipating what comes next. It’s important to continually be challenging ourselves and not rest on our laurels of saying, well, Oakland County has always been successful – and that’s true, but it doesn’t mean it always will just by going on autopilot. I didn’t come here to keep the seat warm for 16 months and hand it over to someone else. We’re actively looking and challenging ourselves every day. How can we improve? What are the emerging needs and opportunities and let’s get to work on them. DOWNTOWN: Officials in southeast Michigan are now looking at coming to voters in 2020 with a mass transit plan and accompanying property tax proposal that would involve Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw counties following failure of a proposal in 2016 that also included Macomb County. Brooks Patterson had supported the creation of a Regional Transit Authority but, along with Macomb County, did not work for passage of the last plan, contending that Oakland would be contributing a disproportionate share of tax dollars and some areas of the county would not benefit from the plan. Some in northern Oakland, like Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett, has recently said that he would be supportive of regional transit if there was something in it for Rochester Hills. You allegedly are a supporter of the current plan. What makes this new plan different from the previous plan? And how would you address some community concerns? COULTER: I have to start by just correcting one thing. There isn’t a new plan yet. There is not a plan on the table today. One of the things I said from the beginning was I’m not interested in simply dusting off the plan that didn’t pass in 2016 and selling it better. I took the perspective that the plan failed in Oakland County, and I want a better understanding of why. Transit is changing, period, right now. Every year. Every day. 2016 was four years ago – we’ve got to prepare not only for what’s needed now, but what’s going to be needed 10 years from now. I don’t have a crystal ball, but mobility is clearly, clearly changing in dramatic ways. If we’re gonna do this, it has to be a plan that makes sense for Oakland County now and going forward in the future. And it has to address the weaknesses of the last plan. Number one, I heard this from people, and I happen to agree now that I’ve taken a closer look at it, in the last plan, the main arteries had some very strong transit proponents to it, but there weren’t enough east-west connections to get people to those roads. The other criticism that you referenced was that there wasn’t enough in the outlying parts of the county, not just the north, but the west end as well, to make it a value to them. And so I’ve challenged us to say, are there things that we could add to this plan? We’ve been spending a lot of time having conversations and meetings. I met with township supervisors who primarily represent the north and west. They gave me an earful about what they don’t like, but also some are open to possibility. You mentioned Mayor Barnett. He said, “I’m not necessarily opposed to transit. But the issue is this and often the issue is what they call the last mile salary. We can get you to a transit stop, but how do we get it to your subdivision?” People that live in a rural subdivision or suburbs are not going to walk a mile to a bus stop to take it. So how do we figure that out? I don’t pretend to have the answer today. DOWNTOWN: Do you believe it will be on the ballot in November 2020? COULTER: I don’t know, because what I’ve consistently said is for me the plan is more important than the timing. I understand that there’s a lot of people that would like to have this on the ballot in 2020, and I’m as anxious as they are. But it has to be a plan that I can go out to the voters and say, yes –’This plan I believe this plan is in the best interests of Oakland County.’ And if I can’t do that, then I would rather wait for a plan I could. We’re having great conversations. But these are conversations to develop the plans. And once we draft the plan, you can’t get enough community input. You need to hear from people. So when we do draft the plan, which I hope happens relatively soon, we’re going to take that plan out on the road and we’re going to share it with people, while it’s still in the draft phase. And I am committed to that. DOWNTOWN: I’m very glad you clarified it, because, if I’m reading all this and had that perception I’m sure a lot of other people did as well. COULTER: The issue was this – the RTA, as it was drafted that Brooks and Mark Hackel, everyone supported was a four-county, all-in plan. So it had to be all Oakland, all Macomb, all Wayne and all Washtenaw, and obviously that includes Detroit. You can’t modify that without going back to the legislature. The Municipal Partnership Act allows you to create a different footprint. That’s all it does. The other confusion I want to make really clear is – because this wasn’t even clear to us when we started going down this municipal partnership act is, there’s language in the Municipal Partnership Act that allows municipalities that want to form a partnership with another municipality, which is what we would be doing – to levy up to five mills. Suddenly people saw that and said, oh, my gosh, they want five mills. I want to be crystal clear about that. The last plan in 2016 was 1.2 mills. There is no interest in going up to five or four or three or two. That’s a non-starter. Because that’s in the Municipal Partnership Act, we will make sure that whatever we roll out is back in the ballpark of where we were before. I don’t know exactly what the number will be because we don’t have a plan yet. It might be less expensive because Macomb isn’t in, but we don’t have that now. DOWNTOWN: Some critics of the past administration have claimed that Brooks Patterson was not a willing regional player, despite his support of a regional approach to sewer and water, Cobo, the DIA. How will your administration’s approach be different than the past administration regionally? COULTER: I want to be a player at the regional table. I think it’s important because I think there’s a number of issues that Oakland County can work on with our regional neighbors that will also benefit Oakland County. But that doesn’t mean I’m gonna be a pushover or that I’m going to let other communities break open the piggy bank of ‘Bank of Oakland County.’ I’m the Oakland County executive and my responsibility is to the residents of Oakland County. But I do see opportunities for us to work more collaboratively together because Oakland County does have competitors – but I view our competitors more broadly, like China and India and Europe and other states. Metro Detroit can do a better job of working together to attract businesses and jobs to this region. I want to be somebody who’s at that table advocating for Oakland County and the region. DOWNTOWN: So we talked before about changing demographics and immigrants. Your office recently put out a memo which stated that Oakland County welcomes refugees, and that immigrants strengthen communities, noting you sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, noting that refugees have been an important source of population growth and stability. Refugee entrepreneurs generated between 70 million and 90 million dollars in economic benefits, provided local jobs, and paid almost $131 million dollars in taxes in 2015. Did you receive a response from the State Department by any chance? COULTER: I believe so. DOWNTOWN: What were you hoping to achieve by sending it? Would you like to see more immigrants and refugees settling in Oakland County, and if so, how would you work to achieve that? COULTER: Let me just let me start by saying this – that’s not a change in policy in Oakland County. Oakland County had already been open to accepting refugees. What changed was at the national level. The Trump administration put in a new policy that if you’re a unit of government, like a county or the state of Michigan – because the governor sent the same letter – then we’re going to ask you to state that in a letter to the secretary of state. They already are being settled. We already accept refugees here. That’s not a change in policy in Oakland County. It’s just enunciated, and that was a requirement of the Trump administration. DOWNTOWN: Recently, the board of commissioners passed a non-discrimination policy covering sexual discrimination and gender identity and veterans covering employees of the county, as well as county vendors and contractors which was actually just a fine-tuning of Oakland County’s 2010 Equal Opportunity and Equal Employment Opportunity Policy. However, a Birmingham Republican running for county commission took issue with the passage of the policy, asserting that it would cost taxpayers money. Would you like to comment on this and whether an offer of equality for all actually creates the impression of openness and opportunity for millennials and others seeking a welcoming community and welcoming environment? COULTER: I want Oakland County to be perceived as welcoming to anyone who wants to live here and contribute here. I can’t imagine why anybody would want to take the side of discriminating against anybody. And I was proud to sign the resolution passed by the county commission that we’re not going to allow discrimination in Oakland County in our practice this year, including based on sexual orientation and gender identity. That’s a fundamental value that I have. And by the way, I don’t think it has a financial impact. It’s the right thing to do, not just morally, but from an economic development perspective. I want to make sure everyone feels welcome to come work here and contribute here and pay taxes here. DOWNTOWN: As an openly gay man, how important do you believe it would be for the Michigan legislature to expand the Elliott-Larson Civil Rights Act? COULTER: I go back to what I said. I don’t know how people can argue that any kind of discrimination should be allowed in this day and age. As a gay man, but also just as a decent human being, I’m wholly supportive of expanding our nondiscrimination policy in this state.
Downtown photo: Laurie Tennent