New Oakland Executive’s Take on Transit

With a new Executive in Oakland County for the first time in two decades, many people are wondering what comes next. Among his busy week, new Executive Dave Coulter spoke with the Oakland Press, sharing some important insights on his views of and plans for regional transit.

He believes Metro Detroit “desperately needs” a “comprehensive mass transit system.”

” I believe that Metro Detroit is, maybe, the only major metropolitan region in the country that doesn’t have some kind of comprehensive mass transit system. It desperately needs one. And that includes Oakland County. I think from a quality of life perspective, it’s important. I think for an employer to be able to attract and retain talent to the region, it’s important. From an economic development perspective, it’s important. Our businesses are calling for it and the major businesses in Oakland County have been asking for it for years. It’s absolutely necessary. . . .

I ran on better mass transit and public transit, when I ran in 2002 as a county commission. We’ve been talking about this. I’ve been talking about it for 17 years. The region’s been talking about it for decades. It’s time to get this right.

New Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter in The Oakland Press, Aug 26, 2019

He wants regional transit on the 2020 ballot, IF we can get it right.

“There are a lot of people that think this should be on the ballot in 2020. I tend to think that’s a realistic timeframe. Given my anxiousness to do this, I will also say that if we can’t get the right plan, then waiting a year would be better than putting forth a bad plan that’s going to fail again. My fear is that if it fails again, it could be another four years before it’s put on the ballot so it’s important to get it right. . . .

I’ll probably have some say on whether it goes on the ballot or not, but the plan itself is ultimately going to be up to the voters. So my responsibility is to put something before the voters that I feel confident about and one that supports the region and benefits Oakland County.

Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter sits at his desk inside the L. Brooks Patterson Executive Building on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. He was appointed to the position on Friday, Aug. 16 to finish out Patterson’s term, which expires December 2020.
Photo, quotes by Mark Cavitt of The Oakland Press

He doesn’t have all the answers on issues like taxing footprint and service details.

“With a project like that, the devil is in the details. Apparently, what the voters said in 2016 was you didn’t get the details right. There was something about that plan that caused it to fail. I need to better understand for myself what that was because I don’t want to put another plan forth until I feel confident and understand where we failed last time. How can we eliminate that.

“Another issue is the taxing footprint and which communities pay for it. There are two schools of thought. One says, the footprint has to be as large as possible and it has to be what was put on (the ballot) before. Another school of thought says if you shrink the footprint you shrink the revenue being generated. What does that do to the system? I don’t have an answer for you today. That’s going to be an issue that I want to get right. . . .

“Maybe communities in the northern part of the county should be taxed differently. I’m open to looking at it. I don’t know. I’m going into this with an open mind, but I also want to say I’m going into this with a certain anxiousness.”

He will appoint new representatives to the RTA and the SMART Boards soon.

We have some important appointments to make on boards such as the Regional Transportation Authority, the Great Lakes Water Authority, and SMART. Filling out the team and the appointments are a priority because we can’t do the work unless the right people are in place….

“My philosophy is not to use these as political patronage appointments but to find the best and smartest people that I can while always looking at whether it reflects the diversity of our county. I want to try to create a diverse team that looks like Oakland County with the smartest people I can.

FYI – the Oakland County representatives on the SMART board were Deputy County Executive Jerry Poisson and Bob Daddow, who both retired the day Exec Coulter was sworn in. The Oakland County representatives on the RTA board remain, but may choose to resign to allow Coulter to appoint new members.

Regional cooperation is “very important” to Oakland County’s success and not in conflict.

OP: How important is regional cooperation to Oakland County’s success? What is your relationship with Warren Evans, Mark Hackel and Mike Duggan?

Coulter: Very important. Going back to what I said about my style being collaborative, I want to hear from them. I want to hear what they think the region needs. And, I want to work with them, where it’s in the best interests of the region and Oakland County…. I have a good working relationship with each of them. It’s probably best with Mark Hackel, just by circumstance. I know Mark pretty well. The other two less, but it will be fine…. I want really good constructive, professional relationships with those guys and we’ll get there.

“There’s a real or perceived perception that there hasn’t been enough regional cooperation and that sometimes Oakland County has been the cause of that. I think some of it’s reality and some it’s perception that Oakland County has no seat at the table. But I’d very much like to try to address that while I’m county executive. I would hope that by the end of next year, people feel like we were an honest broker at the table. . . .

The electorate of the residents of Oakland County are going to have to be my number one priority, but understanding the regional system is a benefit to Oakland County. It’s just a matter of trying to weigh that benefit versus the costs, it’s kind of simple in that regard.

Outside transit, Coulter plans to follow many of Patterson’s economic practices.

OP: In what ways will you build upon what Brooks created? In what ways will you differ?

Coulter: I really respect a lot about Oakland County government. What always comes up first, and for good reason, is the financial and budgeting management practices…. The county’s AAA bond rating is important to me and I don’t want to mess with it. You have to pass a budget that the credit rating analysts will think is credible and realistic. I’m committed to that. So that’s certainly one of the things that I would continue.

Brooks was well also known for his economic development efforts. I come from that camp as well…. I know the importance of creating jobs and the tax revenues that it brings. It’s important for the health of a community…. Creating jobs and tax revenues, while also attracting businesses, is a focus of mine…. My general philosophy is if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

We at TRU are reaching out to Executive Coulter to offer our suggestions and our assistance as he learns the details of these important issues and moves forward on this most critical of issues. Stay tuned!