Oakland County Executive David Coulter Celebrates Resilience of Residents, Employees, and Businesses During Pandemic
Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter declared his vision for building Oakland County’s future now in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic during his 2021 State of the County address Wednesday evening. It included an announcement that the Oakland80 initiative, geared to leading our state in getting 80 percent of the county’s adults a college education or certificate training by 2030, will kick off later this year by providing navigators and success coaches to help residents plot out their career goals.
“We don’t need to wait for the end of this pandemic to build our future. We must start now, “ said Coulter, who premiered his annual speech on social media from Stagecrafters at the Baldwin Theater in Royal Oak without an in-person audience present due to coronavirus precautions. “The Oakland80 program will get underway this summer and will fan out across the county to give residents the assistance they need to complete college credits or skilled training programs.”
American Rescue Plan
Coulter outlined how the county will prioritize investing its $244 million share of the American Rescue Plan to build Oakland County’s future now. It will include addressing the acute needs that continue to exist for small businesses and non-profit organizations, targeting investments in mental health and educational supports as students return to school in the fall, and helping women return to the workplace, all issues which became prevalent during the pandemic.
“We’ll look at partnerships to leverage the federal money to make strategic investments in key areas. We’re going to target initiatives that build on Oakland County’s strengths, address our disparities, and prepare us for a strong future,” Coulter said.
Criminal Justice Reform
Coulter also addressed the importance of criminal justice reform initiatives. By fall, as required by the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC) standards, the assignment of defense attorneys will be independent. The county executive stated his intention to establish a public defender’s office in Oakland County within the next two years in order to provide defendants with dedicated attorneys, who are solely focused on representing people who have been charged with crimes but can’t afford a lawyer. As part of Oakland County’s further implementation of the MIDC standards, he has tasked his administration to research the best public defender approach for the county.
Health Care Initiatives
The county executive updated viewers on the progress of other county initiatives such as Health360 with the opening of clinics in Oakland County Health Division offices in Pontiac and Southfield with partners Honor Health and the Oakland Livingston Human Services Agency which will provide health care services regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. Since opening in August last year, the program has provided services to 1,100 county residents.
“Expanding access to health care services throughout the county will continue to be a key priority for my administration,” Coulter said.
Equity and Environment
He then cited progress on equity with the appointment of a chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer and on the environment by creating with the Oakland County Board of Commissioners the new position of chief sustainability officer.
Giving Thanks to Residents, Employees, and Businesses
Coulter also used the speech to thank Oakland County’s residents, employees, and businesses for their wherewithal throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Through it all…I’ve seen a resilience in our people, our employees, and our businesses. We’re stepping up, fighting back, getting vaccinated and yearning for the life we all knew before COVID,” Coulter said.
First, he highlighted Oakland County’s people such as Karen Buscemi, president and CEO of Detroit Sewn, and Roger Penske, chairman and CEO of Penske Automotive Group. Buscemi helped create the Michigan Mask Donation Center in Pontiac as a spot where home sewers could donate home-made masks for workers in the service industries and switched gears at her company to focus on making medical masks for hospital workers. Penske quietly donated warehouse space the county needed to distribute more than 2.5 million pieces of personal protection equipment that came through the county.
Then Coulter focused on the outstanding performance of county employees who continued to provide services and kept residents and businesses safe throughout the public health crisis such as Oakland County Health Division public health nurses, parks and recreation staff, and the department of information technology.
“The nurses have been phenomenal, staffing testing sites, vaccination clinics, the Nurse on Call lines and fitting in their normal duties at the same time. Our epidemiologists helped us understand this awful virus and provided invaluable guidance on how to best stop the spread,” Coulter said.
He singled out Calandra Green, a registered nurse who came to work for the Oakland Health Division in 2019 and was promoted to quality and process improvement supervisor in February of last year. In addition to her new job, she assumed even more roles during the pandemic, helping to increase the number of Nurse on Call phone banks five-fold and acting as liaison with Oakland County’s school districts and helped to hire 68 nurses who were dispatched to work in schools across the county.
Coulter highlighted Oakland County Michigan Works! whose employees were stretched to their limits, volunteering to assist the state Unemployment Insurance Agency to field more than 800,000 calls from people who lost their jobs and needed unemployment benefits as businesses in the state were shut down to help stop the spread of the virus.
Finally, Coulter applauded Oakland County businesses such as PolyFlex in Farmington Hills, Motor City Gas in Royal Oak, and Valencia Van Loan of My Nana’s Kitchen in Pontiac for either helping out or sticking it out during the pandemic.
“The shift in their business models was another example of the resilience of our businesses, ready to contribute in ways that will not only help the community, but keep people working during a time of economic uncertainty,” Coulter said.
Vaccinated! One By One
As more and more residents receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Coulter ended on a hopeful note:
“The good news is that we have demonstrated that when we put our minds to it, we have the ability, the resilience, the where-with-all to tackle big, difficult challenges that confront us. When our generation was called upon to address this unprecedented global health and economic crisis, let history remember that we answered the call.”