Oakland County Shows Resolve through Challenges of 2021
Pontiac, Michigan – Resilience, lifting up our neighbors, and emergency response and recovery were the hallmarks of 2021 for Oakland County and its residents.
The county activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) seven times in the past year, the most in recent memory. Amid these challenges, the county continued to move forward on strategic goals such as developing a skilled and educated workforce through the Oakland80 initiative, reforming criminal justice, improving access to health care, and leveraging the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to address acute pandemic needs and invest in the future.
“Our residents, communities, businesses and schools have been through so much this past year, but their resolve has been a beacon of hope for everyone,” County Executive Dave Coulter said. “Oakland County will continue to support our communities through these challenges while moving ahead with our strategic goals to build a welcoming, safe, and healthy community.”
In addition to committing hundreds of personnel and other resources to the COVID-19 pandemic, Oakland County also supported community responses to:
- The Oxford High School tragedy (Nov. 30)
- The 14 Mile Road water main break (Oct. 31)
- Orion Township flooding (Oct. 8)
- Tornado in White Lake Township (July 24)
- Severe weather in Farmington, Farmington Hills, and Southfield (July 7),
- Flooding in Southeast Michigan (June 26).
The EOC coordinates resources and communications at the request of the impacted communities and incident commanders.
Oakland County first responders, communities, businesses, schools, and residents have rallied around Oxford High School students, staff, and families following the Nov. 30 shooting. Victim Tate Myre’s football jersey number 42 has come to symbolize hope including the total score of the Detroit Lions victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Oakland County will always remember those who lost their lives – Tate Myre, Madisyn Baldwin, Hana St. Juliana, and Justin Shilling – along with the seven other victims who were hospitalized and all who survived the terror that day.
Oakland County is committed to helping the greater Oxford community address long-term mental health needs and ensuring all schools, communities, and residents have the resources they need in the aftermath of this tragedy. In the past month, the Board of Commissioners approved:
- $1.5 million for a partnership between the Oakland County Health Division and the Oakland Community Health Network to ensure all students find the mental health services they need.
- Commissioners also reserved $5 million for other response and recovery needs in Oxford, including appropriating $600,000 for the Prosecutor’s Office.
The water main break on 14 Mile Road, initially impacting more than 200,000 homes and thousands of businesses, highlighted what can be accomplished through regional cooperation. The EOC became the epicenter for coordination and communication among the Great Lakes Water Authority, Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner, Oakland County Health Division, and the communities of West Bloomfield, Farmington Hills, Novi, Commerce Township, and Walled Lake. What first was an emergency repair became a broader evaluation of water main infrastructure along 14 Mile Road which has resulted in a project to add 50 years of service life to the water main.
Four severe weather events underscored how climate change is affecting local weather patterns, the great need for infrastructure improvements in Southeast Michigan, and how various levels of government from local to state to federal are ready to assist each other.
Amid all these emergencies, the pandemic required the most of Oakland County’s resources every week of 2021:
- More than 880,000 Oakland County residents have responded to the call to get the COVID-19 vaccine, 300,000 of whom have had additional or booster doses.
- That amounts to more than 1.9 million total doses administered within Oakland County by more than 600 providers.
- Oakland County Health Division has given more than 200,000 of those doses at about 1,060 events at 183 locations throughout the county.
- There are 313,000 eligible Oakland County residents ages 5 years old and up who remain unvaccinated.
While managing pandemic response, Oakland County Health Division won national accreditation from the Public Health Accreditation Board. The Health Division’s robust relationships with community partners, commitment to improvement and growth as an organization, and skill in promoting the value of public health committed to receiving this coveted recognition.
In April, County Executive Coulter assembled business and community leaders to guide Oakland County’s recovery from the pandemic leveraging the county’s $244 million of ARPA funds. By July, Oakland County had allocated more than $27 million to address urgent needs, such as expanding mental health services to county residents, supporting small businesses, helping residents get back to work, and assisting those experiencing crisis housing needs related to the pandemic, including eviction,foreclosure, and rent and utility bills, among other issues. By the fall, nearly $10 million had been awarded to 42 non-profits in the county to strengthen their mental health services.
Criminal justice reform, better access to health care, and creating a more skilled and educated workforce in Oakland County remained at the forefront in 2021.
First, criminal justice reform:
- Coulter appointed Pete Menna as the county’s first chief attorney for indigent defense who will oversee the criminal defense appointment system for individuals who have been accused of a crime and cannot afford a lawyer in Oakland County Circuit Court or 52nd District Court.
- The county executive also appointed Barbara Hankey as director of public services, a department that will play a key role in criminal justice reform and oversees Children’s Village, Community Corrections, the Medical Examiner’s Office, and more.
- Coulter supported Prosecutor Karen D. McDonald’s request to institute the Conviction Integrity Unit by adding it to his budget recommendation for fiscal years 2022-2024.
- Oakland County also paved the way to easier access to information about law enforcement interactions through a transparency dashboard that local law enforcement agencies can make available on their websites. Users can use the tool to see citation and arrest trends, including breakdowns by age, race, and gender.
- Oakland County Michigan Works! launched a program in April to help residents expunge criminal records and expand job opportunities.
Next, improved access to health care:
- Oakland County celebrated in May its partnership with Honor Community Health to co-locate in Health Division Offices in Pontiac and Southfield to offer affordable health care to residents regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.
- The clinics are part of Coulter’s Health360 initiative to close a major health care gap for 227,000 uninsured or underinsured residents. The clinics offer primary care, chronic illness management, women’s health, pediatric services, and dental services.
Finally, creating a more skilled and educated workforce:
- Coulter appointed Rana Al-Igoe to be the county’s first Oakland80 workforce development administrator. The goal of Oakland80 is for 80 percent of Oakland County residents to attain a post-secondary certification or degree by 2030.
- She will soon oversee a network of Oakland80 navigators who will help residents obtain the training and education they need to enhance their careers.
- Oakland County Michigan Works! offices are also offering childcare scholarships and other educational support for residents in the state’s Futures for Frontliners and Michigan Reconnect programs.
- Oakland County Michigan Works! continued to support Oakland80 with several programs which included a virtual Manufacturing Day which attracted 1,000 high school students from around the county to online tours of advanced manufacturers, Oakland NEXT – a summer young professionals program, and the Advantage: Apprenticeships program to encourage companies in a variety of industries to pursue registered apprenticeships.
A few other county highlights from 2021:
- Oakland County retained its AAA bond rating, the highest credit score.
Oakland County grew by more than 72,000 residents according to the 2020 Census.
University of Michigan economists forecasted that Oakland County will recover jobs from the pandemic slightly faster than the rest of Michigan.
Oakland County created Local Business Connect to bring support and resources from the Economic Development Department directly to businesses emerging from the pandemic.
Oakland County Neighborhood and Housing Development Division released the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness in November.
Oakland County’s Equity Council achieved its inaugural year of developing its mission, vision, and values as well as action plan and goals for operationalizing equity, diversity, and inclusion in county government.
County Executive Coulter named Erin Quetell the county’s first environmental sustainability officer.
He also appointed Solon M. Phillips as the county’s first African American corporation counsel.