Oakland BoC Chair Dave Woodward Response to the State of the County address

Dave Woodward, Chair, Oakland County Board of Commissioners, February 7, 2019

It’s a new day in Oakland County.

Last November, Oakland County voters sent a message by electing new progressive leadership and sending a majority of Democrats to the Oakland county board of commissioners for the first time in nearly 50 years.  

We now have a governing body that shares the values of our residents, and we intend to lead from those values.

Tonight, I want share with you a vision for what our community, what Oakland County, can be.  We can be a county with an economy that works for everyone--not just a few, a county that embraces, celebrates and protects diversity and equality, a county that takes seriously the responsibility of safeguarding our environment-our greenspace, trees, lakes rivers and streams- for future generations to enjoy, and a county that is welcoming to everyone.  

It’s only been one month since our new commission got to work, but we’ve already taken meaningful steps to better represent our values and serve our residents.

In the last month, the Board has reorganized to better align to advance a policy agenda that fixes our roads, protects our water, and breaks down walls to regional cooperation.  When we succeed Oakland County will be a more welcoming place, a stronger place, and a more resilient place to live, work, and play.

Our Democratic majority is committed to making sure the people appointed to serve on various Boards and Commissions represent the diversity of our county, look like our county, and bring a greater variety of perspectives to decision making.

I’m proud to report that we’ve already made tremendous progress in this area.

We have appointed the first woman ever to serve on the Oakland County Road Commission.  We should all be proud and thankful of the service of Road Commissioner Andrea LaLonde of Clawson. She and her colleagues will be instrumental in overseeing our county road system and managing a $150 million annual budget to fix and maintain our roads.

We also made another long-overdue first, by appointing, not just one but two African American women to the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission.  I want to thank Parks Commissioner Ebony Bagley of Farmington Hills and County Commissioner Nancy Quarles of Southfield for their willingness to serve.  Together with their colleagues, they will expand park and recreation opportunities for all our residents with a focus on removing barriers so everyone can enjoy our excellent park services.

These appointments matter.  For too long, those who sat in positions of power in Oakland County did not come close to representing our whole community.  Those days are gone.  Our Board will actively seek out and recruit from a diverse pool of talented applicants.  Greater diversity, more voices at the tables that govern Oakland County, will result in fresh perspectives and ultimately, better decision making.  Diversity is one of our community’s natural strengths, and we will embrace it.

We also began working to immediately  increase transparency and oversight and we’ve already made a number of changes to the way we do business.  

Now all grant applications above $250,000 must come through the board before submission.  Prior to this year, the Board was stuck in a position to either take the money or leave it, and had no say on how the monies would be used.  That will no longer will that be the case.  The governing body of Oakland County, as elected representatives of the people, will be an equal partner in leading our community as intended by law.  Going forward, the voices of all 21 commissioners – Democrats and Republicans - will be part of that process.

I feel I must also comment on some recent news.  

Last week, news broke of a new government hire that seems to have avoided the normal hiring process.  This brought to light the need to reform our rules around contracting and other hiring practices. The Oakland County Board of Commissioners will insist on increased oversight of all professional contracts going forward.

Today I created an Oakland County Contracting Ad-Hoc Committee to review our current process and make recommendation to the full board for how we will increase oversight of county government contracting.

I’ve directed our commission staff to begin to develop proposals to aid in this effort which will include:

1.    A ban on contracting with a spouse of an elected official or any other appointed position subject to the confirmation of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners;
2.    Reforming our county purchasing policy to include an ethics policy that discourages nepotism and cronyism; and
3.    Develop a process so that the Board reviews contracts before they are signed and approved.

The study group will be empowered to explore other options for increased transparency.  

It’s a new day in Oakland County.  There will be no more secret contracts or sweetheart deals..  Contracts will be scrutinized before they are signed.  And the public will have access to everything.

Some may ask, “Why the need to be more transparent?” It’s simple.  Decisions made in the open and not in back rooms are always better.  The public deserves to know.  And the Board has a fiduciary and constitutional responsibility to ensure all county monies are spent appropriately.

Democratic and Republican Oakland County elected officials should certainly be able agree on this.  I know the voters do, regardless of their political beliefs and I look forward to adopting these reforms in the near future.

It’s been a busy month, and I want to express my deepest appreciation to the entire staff of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners who have put in a tremendous amount of hours to help ensure a smooth transition.  These are the talented men and women who make things run well, and those of us serving on the Board couldn’t get things done without them.  

Today we reflect on the state of our county.

I agree with our County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, the state of Oakland County is strong.  And as we look to the future, in fast dynamic times, I look to the next years to embrace ideas and efforts to make us even stronger.

Let’s address the elephant in the room.

There’s a lot of eyes on us today.  Never in Oakland County’s history has there been shared political power in the governing structure.  Many are asking, how is this going to work?

We’ll I’ll tell you.  The Board is prepared to bring new ideas to the table.  We all know Brooks has never been short on opinions and his own ideas.  We are going to have to work together to make Oakland County stronger, more resilient, and a better place to live.

To deliver for everyone in Oakland County, we’re going to have to be willing to listen to one another and understand where each of us is coming from.  To be sure, I’m under no delusion that things will be easy.  I’m a true Blue Democrat, and Brooks is a Red Blood Republican.  We will disagree from time to time.  There almost undoubtedly will be conflict.  But there is something that binds us both.  We both care about this place.  We believe in boundless possibilities for our county.  And we are both committed to building a prosperous Oakland County for all who call it home.

So I’m optimistic.  It should be noted that Democrats and Republicans on the Board have a long tradition working together to get things done.  While we may have disagreed on things from time to time in the past, we’ve come together to deliver for the people of Oakland County. Lansing and Washington can learn a great deal from us.

That brings me to the doing.  To the governing, and to the leading of Oakland County over the next year.

Oakland County is the wealthiest county in Michigan, and among the wealthiest in the nation.  It affords us tremendous opportunity and prosperity.  With that comes a responsible to not lose sight of those who are struggling and may be left behind unless we fix things.

I, like Brooks, celebrate a record low unemployment.  But it’s achieved in the wake of decades of wage stagnation despite record productivity.  Corporations are making record profits and yet too many residents are struggling to make it to the middle class yet alone stay in the middle class.

We need an economic development that focuses on workers, that focuses on people, and focuses on our cities, townships, and villages.  The prosperity of Oakland County must reach all the way down to those on the front lines of the economy.

We are committed to raising the wages of all workers.  That is the foundation that a strong economic development strategy must be built.  A people centered, a worker-centered economic development strategy will extend the prosperity of Oakland County to more people, more families, and more communities.

Oakland County needs to lead.  If you work full time, you should not live in poverty.  Period.  And Oakland needs to set the example.

The Board is going to propose the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next four years for all county employees.  Furthermore, we will ask our vendors who provide $100 million of goods and service to Oakland County to voluntarily join us in raising the wages of their lowest paid workers to be equal to us over the same time frame.  Lastly, we call on Michigan to follow suit, and adopt a $15 minimum wage for all workers and we ask state legislative delegation to join in the effort to lift up working families in Oakland County and Michigan.

If I had 10 cents for every time in a week I hear we need more skilled trades workers I’d be a very rich man.

As we look to the future it is undeniable that we have a shortage of workers going into the skilled trades.  This is something we must address to meet the challenges of the future. These are jobs that our economy needs, and we need to make sure these jobs pay a fair wage not less.  

However, last year, Lansing screwed things up.

We cannot say out of one side of our mouth that we need more skilled trade people, we want to encourage people to go into the field, and these jobs are important --- and then out of the other side of our mouth we say you should earn less, you are less valued, and you should be paid less able to provide for your family if you go into this line of work.  That’s crazy.  But that is exactly what Lansing did last year when it ended prevailing wage in Michigan – the minimum wage for skilled trade work.

The verdict is out.  Skilled trade labor that comes from approved apprenticeship programs is just better by all accounts.  It’s safer.  It’s better trained. They do better work.  And we are all better off.  We need them, and these workers deserve to be paid a fair wage. Period.

Once again, the Oakland County Board is ready to lead.  

Over the next few months, The Board will explore how we preserve and raise wages for the skilled trade workers in Oakland County.  Despite Lansing’s hostile actions to lower the wages of those that work in the skilled trades, we are going to raise them.  We will invite contractors to voluntarily pay prevailing wage, and will reform our purchasing policies to consider and give strong consideration to those firms that pay their workers the prevailing wages for southeast Oakland County.

We will also grow the trades in Oakland County.  To do that, we will partner with the Oakland Intermediate School District to develop an apprenticeship pipeline from our high schools to skilled trade jobs.  As a result, we’ll be able to grow the skilled trades here in Oakland County to better meet the needs of our economy.

And why do we need these skilled trades, because we need to fix the damn roads.

Oakland County has seen our roads go from 70% in good or fair condition to 70% in poor or worse conditions over the last decade.  The longer we delay fixing what we all need to be done, the more it’s going to cost.  Worse yet, it’s public safety that is compromised.

Michigan’s new Transportation Director is declaring the state is way underfunding the needs of roads across Michigan – including Oakland County.

We need more road funding.  And at some point, the grownups need to stand up in Lansing to fix this problem.  This Board is eager to work with Governor Gretchen Whitmer to fix this problem, once and for all.

In the meantime, we cannot afford to sit back and do nothing.

We will reinstitute a road partnership with local cities and villages to fix roads and match dollar for dollar to fix and repair roads. 

Over the last three years, this county local road improvement program has already leveraged more than $30 million in road projects across the county by matching county dollars with local communities to fix local roads.

The severe freeze and thaw we’ve experienced in the last few weeks is going to make for one hell of a pothole season.  We need to be ready to double our pothole repair budget, and need to figure out what we need to do to get the job done.

The Board is ready to look long-term and see what more can be done to fix and maintain our roads in Oakland County.  This includes looking at cost savings options, eliminate duplicative administrative waste and put those savings into additional road repair and maintenance.  Other counties have done this.  We can too. 

Bottom line, we are not kicking the can down the road.  We’re going to fix the roads.
We’re going to fix this problem today once and for all, and position Oakland County for a better future.
Democrats and Republicans both agree we need to get this done.  Surely we can come together to get this accomplished,
There is nothing sexy about roads, but we all need them.  Investment in our transportation system has been on the decline since the greatest generation built them in the first place. 
Now is the time to fix them.
The winners will be all of us.  Our streets will be safer for divers.  Our communities will be stronger.  And Our economy will be better.
I wish I could stop there.  But the reality is we need to fix what’s on top of the roads, and what’s underneath it.  Our water and sewer lines are is need of repair as much as our roads.
We can't keep putting Band-Aids on this.
We can't pretend the infrastructure costs don't exist.  More importantly, we all want our public leaders to be straight with them, and tell the truth. 
Our Board is ready to work with Oakland County’s Water Resource Commissioner Jim Nash to do tackle these challenges.  The quality and safety of our water is too important.
The Board will be proposing creating an Oakland County Water Quality Board to work with the Water Resource Commission to keep water quality issues front and center.
This citizen and professional board will bring people and experts together to develop strategies to protect our drinking water, lakes, rivers, and streams in Oakland County. 
Oakland County has been a leader on major issues.  Oakland County will be a leader when it comes to protecting our water.  We are home to more lakes than any other county.  We have more septic tanks than any other county.  We are a county of 1.2 million people relying on public water lines and well water.  We can’t afford not to lead on water issues.
And when it comes to leading on these big issues, it requires us to be good partners in the region.  This Board is committed to tearing down walls to regional cooperation and break through the impasse that has held us back on progress.
The issues I’ve already spoken about roads and our water are regional issues as much as they are Oakland County’s issues.  I’d like to talk about a few other big regional issues that requires Oakland County’s leadership.
The Detroit Regional Partnership is a new partnership working to develop a regional economic development strategy to grow the economy.  While our County Executive has decided he does not want to sit on the board of this new body, we believe it is important that Oakland County does.  We must become a full partner, actively engage, and formally participate in this effort.  I welcome the partnership, and want to make sure any regional economic development strategy serves of all of our 61 communities and all of our residents --- not only a few.
Secondly, I want to speak about improving regional public transit.  We need to get this done, for workers who need to get to jobs, for employers who need workers, for seniors and people with disabilities who face mobility challenges, and for everyone else in between.  We cannot fully live into being a world class region, and not improve regional transit in metro Detroit.
Next month I will appoint a Special Committee to become active partners in developing and advancing a plan that improves transit here in Oakland County and the region.  I invite my colleagues in Macomb, Wayne, and Washtenaw to do the same.  Together we can provide the new leadership, new engagement, and renewed commitment to deliver better public transit for everyone – and finally get the job done.
Next, as a region we need to become more vigilant for improving affordable housing.  This year, Oakland County and this Board will invest in rental assistance for the first time to help people better afford housing. It’s a start, but there is a tremendous about of work we need to improve access to affordable housing for everyone.  Working with our partners, we will propose solutions to make measured strides that will help those in need, while advancing economic development across the county.  But Oakland County can’t do it alone, and we need to address this issue from a regional level.  I welcome the regional conversation, and actions we can take together to make not only Oakland County more welcoming, put improve access to housing for more people.
Another area where your Oakland County Board is ready to lead is with the upcoming 2020 Census.  While it is disturbing that the White House is trying to cast a chilling effect with the hopes some don't participate by the type of questions they want to ask, Oakland County is going to work hard to count every person.  Everyone! 

The Census count will dictate how millions of federal dollars are spent, and how much will come to Oakland County and the region.  The more complete the count, the more resources we will have to make our county stronger.  It will dictate our democracy and how big our voice is in Congress and in Lansing.  It’s a big deal, and we are up to the challenge.
In the coming months, the Board will convene a Oakland County Census Complete County Committee to serve as a coordinating body for the 2020 census.  We will invite members of the faith community, human service providers, public leaders, business and nonprofits to work together to make sure we count every person.  This group will develop a plan that assists is communication on the importance of the Census, help recruit workers to help work on the Census, and organize networks to get information out to organizations throughout the county to engage in this once every 10 year national exercise.  This Committee will also need to work with comparable bodies in surrounding counties.  It’s in all our interests that we count everyone, and we can work together to help achieve this goal.
We need to all work together.  Our success as a region will rest on our success to deliver on these very big issues.  From Roads to Water, economic development to affordable housing and more, we all need to pull together to make things better.
It’s as important to my neighbors in Royal Oak as it is to the residents in rural Springfield Township.  It doesn't matter if you live in Pontiac or Novi, Rochester Hills or Waterford, we all want the same thing. We all want to live in a county that works for us, that creates and expands opportunity, and ensures equality for everyone.
This Board is prepared to take on big challenges and get things done for all working families of Oakland County. Oakland County’s governing body is ready to be bold.
Last century thinking is not going to solve this century problems.  But new ideas can.  And Solving today’s problems is necessary so we all enjoy a brighter future.
I’ve said it before.  Oakland County is among the most prosperous counties in the nation.  If it can’t be done here, then it can’t be done.  Together we can unlock unprecedented prosperity for everyone, and build a better Oakland County for all.
The state of our county is strong, but we can be stronger.  More people can be given the opportunity to get ahead.  Equality can be achieved for everyone. And we can become a more welcoming county to come and work, live, and raise a family
Let’s get it done.
Thank you for listening.  Good night.  God Bless America!  And God Bless Oakland County!