Updated, 8:27 p.m., 8/14/19
A group of Oakland County commissioners interviewed candidates Wednesday to replace the recently deceased longtime County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, amid controversy over the appointment process and allegedly deleted emails.
Three commissioners chose a group of candidates that included the recently-resigned Democratic County Commissioner Dave Woodward; Kevin Howley, a Democratic former opponent of Patterson’s; independent Randy Hazel; independent real estate broker Timothy Gossman; and Julie Secontine, a former state fire marshal and county risk manager.
That was before the Detroit News reported Wednesday that the lone Republican of the three interviewers, Thomas Middleton, decided to boycott the proceedings, saying he didn’t have enough time to choose which of the 21 applicants for the job were the most qualified. That left only two interviewers in Democrats Marcia Gershenson and Gwen Markham.
“I’m not comfortable with [the candidates] I chose,” Middleton told the News. “There might be good ones if I had time to look into them.”
“This whole process was rushed. I was out weed whacking when I was hit with these applications. You have to be given the opportunity to follow up with references.” – Middleton
— Mark Cavitt (@MarkCavitt) August 14, 2019
Middleton, Gershenson and Markham chose the five interviewees from a field of 21 applicants after Tuesday’s noon application deadline, with interviews being scheduled Tuesday afternoon as well.
Gershenson and Markham will present their findings from the interviews to the full board of 20 commissioners Friday. At that point, they may recommend a candidate to the board. A simple majority is all that’s needed to select Patterson’s successor.
Chris Ward, a former state representative and the board’s chief of staff, pointed out Wednesday that the interview process is simply for “research” and “recommendation.”*
“The board could choose any qualified elector on Friday,” Ward said. “The study group [of Gershenson and Markham] will continue with interviews, and they may choose to make a recommendation to the board, it’s still on the agenda.”
When Patterson died from pancreatic cancer on Aug. 3, his deputy, Gerald Poisson, became the acting county executive. Under county law, the board has 30 days from the time of Patterson’s death to select an interim executive, or else a special election will be held the following year with a primary in March and the general election in May.
The process became immediately fraught with implicit accusations of backroom deals being made in the immediate aftermath of Patterson’s death.
Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner, a Democrat, has said he will seek the office during its normal election cycle in 2020, saying in a statement, “Because I do not have faith in the integrity of this process, I will not submit my name to be appointed to fill the remainder of Brooks Patterson’s term.”
In another controversy, Oakland County Commissioner Shelley Taub, a Republican, was found to have urged her colleagues to delete their emails about the process of finding Patterson’s replacement after finding out about a Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] request.*
“You are about to receive FOA’s [sic] for all of your email regarding Brook’s [sic] replacement!,” Taub texted her colleagues, as reported by local affiliate WXYZ. “DELETE! DELETE! DELETE! Now!”
In a statement, the liberal group Progress Michigan called for Taub to resign, but she has given no indication that she’ll do so.
“Commissioner Taub needs to resign because she’s admitted, on camera, to trying to hide public documents from the people of Oakland County, who deserve real accountability from their elected officials,” said Lonnie Scott, the group’s executive director.
The chair of the Oakland County Republican Party and former congressional candidate Rocky Raczkowski wrote to county commissioners over the weekend that they should “honor Brooks’ memory, by living up to our Party’s values, standing firm as a Caucus, and abstaining from this unseemly vote,” according to a Detroit News report.
The board is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, 10-10, after Woodward’s resignation. Ward, the chief of staff, said Wednesday that “we’ll see at the end of the week if two parties will come together toward a solution.”