COUNTY PLOT THICKENS


Dave Woodward

We were as surprised as everyone else when the Oakland Republican Party sent out an email on September 22 urging its followers to attend the September 29 county board of commissioner’s meeting to protest what was billed as an attempt by Democrats, who hold a one-vote majority on the board, to make the position of commissioners a full-time spot, with benefits to boot. Come the meeting, nothing on the agenda remotely like what the email suggested, and no mention of the issue during the four-hour session. And no reference to the issue from the 30-plus audience members, who mostly had axes to grind over COVID masking mandates and the like during the public comment period. We queried a number of county board members, and no one was aware that the issue was under discussion, or were not willing to admit that they have been part of the discussion. One insider at the county complex on Telegraph did share that in recent weeks the word on the street was that while Democrats were angling to reduce the size of the board to 15 members (like in Wayne County) and, as the speculation goes, its members would be paid more for the extra work likely to come with larger districts. So we took the rumor to board chair Dave Woodward (D-Royal Oak), who said that among members of his party, who are charged with redrawing commission districts following the latest federal census and are in the “early stages,” there has been “no talk of full-time” county board positions and the actual size of the board won’t be determined for a couple weeks after press time. New maps must be submitted by noon on November 15. Faithful readers will remember that following the 2010 census, districts were redrawn in the summer of 2011, and then-county executive L. Brooks Patterson went to work to have state law changed so the Republican majority on the county board could redraw the districts to keep the GOP in control of Oakland, which was slowly shifting toward the Dem party. The law, written to only benefit Oakland County, provided that counties of over one million residents and with an optional form of an elected county executive could have commissioners draw the districts and at the same time limit the board size to a maximum of 21 members, although it could be much smaller. County commissioner Eileen Kowall – in the state House at the time – and then-Senator Marty Knollenberg carried water on the issue for Patterson in the GOP-controlled legislature. The bill was signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and withstood multiple tests in the courts, after which the 25-member county board was reduced to 21 members. Was it raw politics? You bet. Are we inclined to believe that Democrats in 2021 have not talked about trimming the board further and upping the salary/benefits? We did not fall off the turnip truck yesterday.

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