Dillaha of Birmingham has bachelor's and masters degrees in sociology from Wayne State University. She owns Fat Cat Concierge Services and has not held political office in the past.
The issue of mass transit for southeast Michigan has been a hotly debated topic for over four decades. More recently voters in this county have been less enthusiastic in terms of tax increases to support a system beyond what we now have through SMART or an expanded system that does not provide equal benefits for all Oakland County communities. At the same time, the future for the modes of personal transportation is a big question. Plus, one of the impacts of the pandemic crisis is the number of employees who have been working remotely, which raises a legitimate question of whether there will be even less demand for an expanded mass transit system. What are your thoughts on the mass transit issue?
To remain economically competitive, Oakland County needs a transportation plan that addresses the needs of residents: getting seniors to appointments, workers to work, students to school. We need to consider both current needs and how those will change over the next 15 years. By 2035, 40 percent of our population will be aged 65-plus and will have unique transportation needs. Younger people care about negatively impacting the environment, and student debt makes it difficult to pay for and maintain a car. They still need to get to work, so they chose to live and work in cities with reliable and convenient transportation. The companies that hire them locate there, too. Investment in transportation attracts skilled workers and businesses and is good for our economy. Ridership in Oakland County was up before Covid. As Oakland’s office, retail, restaurant, daycare, home healthcare and nursing home workers return to work onsite, so will ridership.
VOTING DAY OFF FOR EMPLOYEES
The county board, controlled by Democrats, recently adopted a policy that gives county employees the day off to vote in an election, by some estimates an added cost of $1 million for the county and its taxpayers. In that state voters approved no-reasons absentee voting, some say this new policy is unnecessary. Do you think the county board policy change was necessary? Explain.
By having Election Day off, Oakland County employees can now fully participate in our democracy and so can their families. Employees can choose to work for the day at an election precinct or count mail-in votes; they can assist relatives and neighbors who need extra help to get to the polls; or they can care for their young children while their partners do these activities. County employees performing essential duties will not be able to take Election Day off, such as clerk’s office staff, Children’s Village staff, and sheriff patrols. Those employees will be allowed to take a different day off in lieu. The cost associated with giving employees just two days off every two years is a fraction of the amount mentioned.
Republican critics of the Democratically-controlled county board are claiming that Democrats have done away with a long-standing budget procedure of providing a cost impact analysis when proposing new programs, suggesting that ultimately this will threaten the financial picture and eventually the bond rating for the county. Your reaction to this criticism?
I believe residents should be able to easily understand how their tax dollars are being spent and how resources are used. The board’s current practices provide the oversight and transparency we need. When new resolutions are introduced, today’s costs as well as long-term impacts are noted directly in the resolution. Additionally, during the Covid-19 crisis, the executive office provides weekly reports to the board with cumulative totals detailing spending to keep our families safe and to support businesses. Oakland County’s 2020 AAA bond rating was reaffirmed and the 2020 three-year budget was approved with unanimous bipartisan support. As a business owner, I think it’s important to regularly review and tweak business practices to best serve my clients and remain on top of my game. Oakland County needs leaders who aren’t afraid of change and easily adapt to modern ways of thinking and doing business. I will provide that leadership.
Oakland County is the home to hundreds of inland lakes and sits at the headwaters of six major rivers feeding the state’s waterways. Should the county be taking a stronger role in protecting the environment through a more aggressive approach with ordinances regulating items and activities that threaten our natural resources? If so, what would you suggest?
We deserve clean, safe drinking water. Oakland County has 80,000-plus residential and commercial septic systems. It’s estimated 10-20 percent of these are failing, exposing residents and groundwater to raw sewage, viruses and other health concerns. Currently, the county regulates septic systems for new buildings or renovations only. We need to add regular inspections of existing septic systems, and increase and improve nearby well inspections to detect contamination early and protect groundwater. I also want to prioritize replacement of lead service lines connecting water mains to our homes. In Birmingham alone, 730 houses have known lead service lines. Local municipalities are responsible for replacing these lines, but it’ll take years to complete and residents are exposed to lead in the meantime. We need to explore ways to help local municipalities make these repairs now county wide, such as low-cost loans and negotiating county-wide repairs to create economies of scale.
What do you believe are the key issues facing Oakland County at this time? How would you work to resolve the issues?
As county commissioner I will bring smart, forward-thinking, compassionate leadership to Oakland County. I will fight to keep families safe and rebuild our economy in the wake of Covid-19, ensuring businesses have information and protective equipment to reopen and operate safely, and the County has resources to fight future outbreaks. Stop the Oakland County “brain drain”: young people and families are moving away and taking their talents and skills with them. We need to ensure Oakland has the amenities that keep and attract a talented workforce, or workers will keep leaving and companies will follow. This will be devastating for our economy. Address the unique needs of our growing senior population, projected to make up 40 percent of Oakland County by 2035. I cared for my mom when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so I know first-hand the challenges that seniors and their families face.
WHY VOTE FOR YOU
Why should voters select you over your primary opponent? Please be specific in drawing your comparison.
This week, our twin sons Aidan and Brady graduated from Seaholm amidst the pandemic. The outpouring of well wishes reminded my husband Scott and I why we chose Oakland County for our home 20 years ago: caring neighbors, excellent schools, vibrant shops and safe streets. In a few years when our sons finish college, we want them to start their careers and raise their families here. I’m running for county commission because I want to play an active part in shaping Oakland’s future. Through professional and volunteer work, I have built strong relationships with community groups, business leaders, educators and government. I am proud of my reputation as someone who works hard to get things done on time and within budget. I’m not a career politician, and I don’t hide behind a computer. I’m active in the community as a business owner, a parent, and volunteer and a leader.
Gage is a retired attorney living in Bloomfield Hills. He has never held political office before.
I am in favor of mass transit. I believe we need to solve the first and last mile problem to make it more attractive for elderly and rural users. I think it’s important for the communities to work together to the extent possible.
VOTING DAY OFF FOR EMPLOYEES
I agree that voting day should be a holiday. I think we should do everything possible to encourage people to vote and perhaps get a return to a real democracy.
Normally the Republicans use this tactic to prevent funding of needed projects. I doubt they’re good faith.
I think this is part of the infrastructure problem which has been underfunded for decades and I believe we should definitely invest in our natural resources and our infrastructure.
I believe Oakland County could become a model county for the country. It is one of the richest counties in the state, if not the country. However we have great disparity in housing, schooling, medical care, and a number of other public services. I believe most people would rather live in a just and equitable society where we don’t have to close our eyes to the suffering that goes on around us. Although the board of commissioners has little legislative authority, they do set the policy for the county and allocate almost $1 billion a year.
WHY VOTE FOR YOU
Why me? This is really for the voters to decide. Fortunately my Democratic opponent in the primary seems well qualified and would likely do a good job for the citizens. I offer my legal background, many years of experience. We are in the middle of what I believe could be massive changes. One of the things that finally needs to be dealt with Is structural racism. I was around after 1967 and handled a number of civil rights cases including cases involving police killings. I think criminal justice reform is one of the primary issues we need to deal with and I believe that I am particularly qualified to deal with these issues.