Pontiac — Within hours of a second demonstration at the state Capitol this week, the GOP caucus of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners called for the end of emergency powers for county Executive David Coulter as well as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Whitmer’s critics — many of them supporters of President Donald Trump — are upset because they feel her stay-at-home orders and other COVID-19 related restrictions, designed to flatten the curve of virus cases in Michigan, impinge on their constitutional rights and livelihood.
Hundreds of anti-Whitmer demonstrators snarled traffic Thursday outside the state Capitol with a horn-honking motorcade and then cramming inside the building as lawmakers were meeting, with some protesters dressed in camouflage and carrying firearms.
Commissioner Mike Gingell, R-Lake Orion, chair of the GOP minority caucus on the Oakland County board, sent out three news releases voicing frustration with Whitmer and Coulter, both of whom are Democrats.
One release expressed anger at finding no support from Democratic commissioners on a collective resolution asking Whitmer to aggressively open the state’s economy with a specific focus on impacted auto workers, carpenters, steel workers, plumbers, millwrights, skilled trades and others.
A second release complained new county board committees have been disproportionately “stacked” with Democrats.
And the third release said while Coulter and his team have done a good job during the first months of the pandemic, that there is no reason to further extend Coulter’s emergency powers in Oakland County.
Coulter drew some heat in March for making Oakland County one of the first to temporarily close malls and playgrounds and later, call for business shutdowns, sheltering-in-place, and drive-thru testing. Oakland County had 7,285 virus positive cases and 694 related deaths as of Friday.
“We all agree the economy must be reopened in a safe and reasonable manner, but continuing to prevent people from returning to work and earning a living is unacceptable,” said Gingell.
“The Democrat majority’s failure to act demonstrates a disconnect to the business community and a lack of judgment relative to the catastrophic long-term impact that failing to act will have on Oakland County, our families and economic stability.”
Coulter responded Friday his goal is to stabilize matters in Oakland County, and that emergency powers help authorities more quickly obtain personal protection equipment, among other needs.
“We appreciate the good working relationship we have with the board and have involved them in appropriation decisions and provided weekly reports on all spending during the pandemic,” said Coulter. “Our health division is encouraged by the flattening of the curve and increased testing, but we are still in the middle of a health emergency.
“The extension until May 15th — in alignment with the Stay at Home Order — makes good sense,” he continued. “We will continue to use this authority to purchase personal protective equipment and testing supplies for which there is still a great need and support our hospitals, first responders, and cities, villages, and townships. At the same time, our COVID Economic Recovery Task Force is charged with recommendations on additional support the county can provide as we plan for a phased reopening and economic recovery.”
Also in agreement that the county is on the right track is Oakland County Board Chair David Woodward, D-Royal Oak, who said: “If the Republicans don’t think we’re still in the midst of a public health emergency, they’re living in a fantasy.
“We extended the local county emergency declaration, at the request of the administration,” Woodward said. “It’s necessary we continue to streamline the purchase of personal protection and testing equipment, and support our county’s emergency operation center.
“County Republicans are choosing to mimic behavior of their dysfunctional Lansing counterparts to the detriment of our people,” he said. “We, on the other hand, are putting public health and our county’s ability to manage the situation first.”
Of Gingell’s failure to get full board support of his resolutions, Woodward described it as a “stunt.”
“We have a great working relationship with the administration, and the allocation of the federal COVID-19 relief funds will occur with board approval and oversight, as all spending has,” Woodward said, adding Gingell “was taking orders from the Trump campaign, wasting time and playing political games…”
“It was treated accordingly,” Woodward said. “It was sad to see Republicans pick politics over the health and safety of our communities. Thankfully, it didn’t get in the way of approving $12 million more for our local small businesses, $10 million for a new community response fund, and the board taking up other important actions needed to address the pandemic.”
Oakland County politics have historically been dominated by Republicans, from the county executive post held by L. Brooks Patterson for seven terms until his August 2019 death, on down to the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, where Republicans have held a 14-7 margin at times.
But Patterson’s death, changing county demographics and recent elections have seen Democrats replace Republican counterparts in the countywide jobs of prosecutor, treasurer, clerk, and water resource commissioner.
While the last county budget was approved without much infighting, several initiatives have succeeded or been defeated along party lines.
Gingell said the selection of largely Democratic membership ensures they will dominate decision-making on newly created committees of Pandemic Response and Economic Recovery, Finance and Infrastructure;,and Health, Safety and Human Services.
“It is extremely disappointing that the Democrat majority would take the partisan action to stack the standing committees of the Board of Commissioners in order to dominate the activity of the board and to stifle voices that do not agree with them,” said Gingell.
Gingell said the GOP caucus attempted to amend the member participation ratio of the committees but the Democrats “had no interest in discussing it with us.”
“… Unfortunately, the Board is becoming highly partisan,” he said. “I appears that the Democrat majority has forgotten that our form of government is supposed to be a democracy and not a dictatorship.”
Woodward countered: “The committees are comprised of the same proportional representation that Republicans put in place for nearly a decade — now they say it’s unfair. They’re not in the majority after 40 years, and some are still adjusting.”
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