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.
RACISM AS HEALTH CRISIS
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has declared racism as a public health crisis and is appointing a committee to address this issue and has ordered implicit bias training for all state employees, including everyone in the administration. Should Oakland County be taking any special action or creating policies or programs to address this issue on the local level? Please provide details for your response.
Oakland County has an opportunity to take the lead in promoting diversity initiatives and addressing racism in the region. In my lifetime, Black and Brown residents have not always had the same access to or experiences with health care, housing, employment, transportation, education or the court system. At the same time, our county’s own workforce did not reflect the demographics of the community. In 2020, there is change in the air. Our county hired its first chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, and expanded its non-discrimination policy, indicating their commitment to change. Peaceful demonstrations (organized in cooperation with police from both Bloomfield Township and Birmingham) are taking place. Yard signs promoting inclusivity show that Birmingham and Bloomfield residents want our community to be a place where everyone feels safe, welcomed and valued. Oakland County is focused forward, and I am, too. Diversity not only strengthens our cultural fabric, it creates opportunities for economic growth that we need right now. I will fight to include the voices and experiences of all residents in promoting diversity and inclusion, so that every resident, worker or visitor in Oakland County is treated with respect.
Do you feel Oakland County is doing all it can to be a strong partner in the southeast Michigan region as it applies to the issue of regional cooperation?
It is essential for Oakland County to develop strong regional relationships with government, business, nonprofit, education and healthcare sectors. When we share ideas, data, best practices and resources, we can solve problems much more efficiently than on our own.
Many of the services we rely on daily are a result of regional cooperation: clean drinking water and sewers are good examples. Looking to the future, there are opportunities to collaborate on clean energy initiatives, infrastructure improvements and more. The current COVID crisis also provides many examples of how the county is partnering regionally to solve problems: The public health division has established testing centers, contact tracing protocols, overflow hospitals, and public health notices. Hopefully soon, they will also distribute vaccines. Businesses are receiving help to reopen with access to loans and safety equipment. As families are struggling to work and learn from home during the pandemic, the county is working with K-12 educators, internet providers and other businesses to identify areas that do not have broadband internet service, and establish short and long-term solutions. We need more regional cooperation – not less – to be able to solve modern problems and improve the lives of Oakland residents.
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 opponent? Please be specific in drawing your comparison.
Our twin sons, Aidan and Brady, recently 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.
Moss resides in Birmingham and has an undergraduate degree from Michigan State University James Madison College and a law degree from University of Detroit School of Law. He has been a Birmingham city commissioner, county commissioner (2001-2006), state Representative, and currently is a member of the regional transportation board.
Mass public transit has been a dead-end in metro Detroit for decades, between the ambitious visions of advocates and reluctance of voters to tax themselves to fund them. Add in the uncertainty of post-virus employment and commuting patterns. Add in economic effects of the virus crisis that will make extra money scarce. And add in a mobility future with autonomous vehicles. The good news is last month at the Regional Transit Authority board meeting we heard a report from an initiative which is best described as Uber-Meets-Dial-A-Ride. Using ‘Uber-style’ programs and flexible scheduling, plus small multi-use transports, we might be able to jump out of the old fixed-bus-line model and directly match people to destinations. Instead of focusing on systems, we can focus on service and rides. I intend to strongly support this new direction, and move away from the old failed attempts to recreate transit maps of 1927 or 1950. Let’s use today’s technology to get people who need transit where they need to go.
VOTING DAY OFF FOR EMPLOYEES
County taxpayers don’t get the day off to vote. Why should they pay for their public servants to do it? Besides, anyone who wants to can vote absentee, which has never been easier. Day-off voting is an expensive anachronism and we can use that $1 million to provide services to our citizens. Money is going to be tight after the virus crisis, anyway.
Well, I’m one of the people making those criticisms, so I think they’re correct. The cost-impact analyses, or ‘fiscal notes’ were an important discipline to spending, as well as providing transparency and accountability. There are other budget safeguards done away with: the transformation of the finance committee, where all spending decisions were openly made and debated to a hodgepodge of steering committees, subcommittees and add in the county executive’s orders. Plus, the abandonment of the venerable “Gosling Amendment’ added to every program grant, stating up-front that when the grant money ran out, the program ended – so you wouldn’t assume endless ongoing programs with limited income. After almost 40 years of the Brooks Patterson era, things will inevitably change; but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Whoever is executive, and whatever the priorities, good financial practice and solid budget practices are a bi-partisan reality that help whoever is in office, especially with revenue declines we’re already seeing as a result of the virus and the shutdowns.
Protecting water quality is a prime job of the county water resources commissioner, our independently elected czar of water issues. The board of commissioners can and should be good partners, making sure the WRC has the resources it needs and bringing specific concerns forward to protect and preserve our water quality. Now: I’m from Midland, and my particular issue is dams. My mother’s house was fine, but I have friends in town who got flooded, as well as others who live on the now disappeared Sanford Lake, when the Edenville and Sanford Dams gave way. Oakland County has hundreds of dams, and every single needs to be inspected and brought to code. Right now. I’d call this an urgent priority. If you don’t believe me, drive up on US 10 north of Midland, look over the Sanford Lake bridge, and imagine yourself downstream. This is a bi-partisan imperative.
RACISM AS HEALTH CRISIS
Racism is morally repugnant, and acting upon it is illegal, violating state and federal law. There should be no tolerance for treating one human being differently from another on the basis of race. If our county policies don’t reflect that, it’s time they were changed.
This is an old issue. Regional success is not a zero-sum game. The rebirth and reclamation of first downtown, then neighborhoods of Detroit is one of the most satisfying developments in my life. All regional proposals should be judged on a ‘win-win’ formula. Wins for all the partners, in clearly defined ways, so the public support can be assured. Simply saying ‘what’s good for Detroit is good for all’ hasn’t worked in the past and is probably insufficient in the future. Caveat: under no circumstances should Oakland County taxpayers simply subsidize the Detroit city government.
Oakland’s overriding issue is maintaining quality public health and safety services in the post-Covid environment. Managing a greater need for services with a diminished income will be the biggest challenge to come. I’ve done this before, as chair of Oakland’s finance and Lansing’s appropriations committees. Wonderful visions are no good without the resources to pay for them. Also, given the current attention on law enforcement practice, it’s now time to invest in proper training for the Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff Bouchard has said for years that the county has shorted resources needed for training. I will make it a priority to get the sheriff what he needs to properly train our law enforcement. “Defund the police?” No way. In this region we learned long ago that nothing’s more expensive than civil disorder. Seniors. New York wasn’t the only state who sent Covid-positive patients to nursing homes, endangering seniors. Michigan did it, too. Covid lockdowns have been especially hard on isolated seniors. Oakland has many programs geared to seniors, but we need to reach out and double down on both physical and mental health. We have very fine senior programs with NEXT and Bloomfield Seniors. They need to be supported and enhanced.
WHY VOTE FOR YOU
Experience. My opponent is a very fine person but she has no experience or record at any elected level of government. Our county commissioners have all come with elected city commission/township trustee office or state-level, or a serious local board experience like planning. I’ve served as Birmingham city commissioner, mayor, county commissioner, state Representative, as well as boards like the 2016 Plan, SEMCOG regional board and officer, and currently the Regional Transit Authority. The county commission has never been a place for on-the-job training, and with a new or nearly-new county executive, it needs proven veterans more than ever. My specialty has been finance, budget and appropriations, and that’s going to be the key going forward post-Covid. Experience counts and I have the experience, the grasp of issues, and the record to show I can tackle county challenges from day one. Now is no time to send in a newbie.