County commission raises a poor decision
Most residents of Oakland County aren't really aware of the board of commissioners, and what their duties are. Established in 1969, currently there are 21 county commissioners, elected to two-year terms, representing geographic districts. Their powers and responsibilities include establishing an annual county property tax millage rate; establishing and formulating county policies; adopting the annual county budget which is usually presented to them by the county executive, as well as long range capital projects for the county; adopting county development plans; and adopting rules establishing the authority, duties and responsibilities for county departments and offices.
Commissioners have full board meetings twice a month, and sit on committees, for which they earn $37,000 a year, plus health benefits.
Until November 2018, the county commission had always had a Republican majority, and simultaneously, a Republican county executive, notably L. Brooks Patterson, who passed away in August 2019. The Republican majority county board supported Patterson's policies and interests, maintained a balanced budget and a AAA bond rating. Democrats might have grumbled about Patterson, notably about some of his off-color statements, but Oakland County's economic success couldn't be debated, and the county commission didn't debate it.
Then Patterson died. For the first time, Democrats held the reins – but didn't quite know how to manage the horse. First, a deal between board chair David Woodward, a Democrat from Royal Oak and former board chair Michael Gingell, a Republican from Lake Angelus, to have commissioners from both parties vote for Woodward to be appointed to fill Patterson's seat as executive, fell apart in acrimony. Woodward resigned from the board, with its 11-10 Democratic majority, leaving a party stalemate as commissioners “opened” the appointment to interviews. When that failed, Woodward rescinded his resignation and Democrats quickly appointed Ferndale mayor David Coulter as the new county executive. Coulter won election for a full term in November.
Fast forward to December 2020, and Democrat commissioners decided that during a worldwide pandemic, with its economic fallout, it would be a perfect time to introduce a resolution for a three percent raise for commissioners, and a 30 percent raise for Woodward as county board chair, because the 20 percent stipend he was already receiving just wasn't enough, and 15 percent stipend increase for the board vice chair and 10 percent increases of stipends for caucus chairs for both parties. Thankfully, all the Republicans and Democrat William Miller of Farmington voted against the commissioners' raise, but the Democrats – as well as Gingell – supported Woodward's raise, with Gingell noting he had done the job and knew it was a lot of work, and the increase in the other stipends. Woodwward will new make $53,042, plus benefits that include health care and 401K.
Timing is everything, as the old saying goes. And the Democrats have terrible timing.
Their frequent complaint during the Patterson administration was that the board was a rubber stamp for his requests. This was their opportunity to show leadership – and so far, we would have to give them failing grades in that department. With many residents struggling with business closures, layoffs, unemployment, food insecurity, and other issues related to the pandemic, raises for themselves showed a lack of sensitivity.
During another instance of hardship in the county, the 2008-2009 recession, the board of commissioners wisely showed leadership by voting to take pay cuts and freezing county wages. We would have liked to have seen a similar effort during an economic downturn some economists liken to the Great Depression. Rather than attempting to reward themselves in their part-time county commission job and making Woodward's a full-time job as chairman, plus increasing the other stipends, commissioners should have kept their eyes focused on the ball – their constituents and the residents of Oakland County.