Matter of Consensus New county clerk pledges to expand online services


By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

As chairman of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners for the past six years, Bill Bullard Jr. has performed "his duties in his own quiet but determined style of building consensus."

It is a practice that Circuit Court Judge Wendy Potts predicts that Bullard will continue as Oakland County's new Clerk/Register of Deeds.

Bullard, who was appointed to the post in early December by vote of the Oakland County Circuit Court, was sworn in to office by Chief Judge Nanci Grant on Monday, Jan. 24 during a special ceremony in the Board of Commissioners Auditorium. He succeeds Ruth Johnson, recently elected as Michigan's Secretary of State.

"In this time of continuing budget crunches, all of us struggle to do more with less," Bullard told a throng of local dignitaries and well-wishers at the swearing-in ceremony. "We must innovate by using technology and new ways of providing services to meet this challenge. We must listen to our customers to find where we can provide better services and get them better value for their tax dollars."

A native of Detroit and an alumnus of the University of Michigan, Bullard pledged in the months ahead to make the rounds in Oakland County, visiting "every local city, village and township to discuss with local officials how we can cooperate to better serve our mutual constituents."

Said Bullard: "We will be bringing our services to the people of Oakland County, through our mobile office where citizens can avoid the trip to the county courthouse and receive the same services they would get at our offices. This program simply involves redeploying existing staff and carries little or not cost to the taxpayers.

"In the near future, we will be expanding services for county residents online," added Bullard, who earned his juris doctor degree from the former Detroit College of Law. "We will be improving access to public records, providing new protections for property owners from deed fraud, and protecting citizens from identity theft by redacting personal identifiers from past records."

Bullard grew up in Grosse Pointe in a predominantly Republican household. His late father, Willis Sr., was a corporate attorney in Detroit and was active in local GOP politics. His 92-year-old mother, Virginia, was on hand for the Monday ceremony, receiving a special nod from the oldest of her three sons.

"She is a lifelong Democrat, but I love her anyway," Bullard said with a smile, drawing a round of laughs from the audience. "In all sincerity, my brothers and I are blessed to have such a wonderful mother."

Bullard, who served in both the Michigan House of Representatives and the State Senate during a 20-year career in the legislature, also paid tribute to his three children, Willis III, Melissa, and Kalia, each of whom attended the ceremony.

"I have the greatest family in the world," said Bullard, former sports editor of The Michigan Daily during his days at U-M.

In his opening remarks, Bullard gave special recognition to Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who served as emcee of the ceremony.

"Oakland County, thanks to Brooks's leadership, is a beacon of fiscal integrity in a sea of deficit financed government," Bullard said. "The fact that Oakland County is one of a handful of counties nationwide with the coveted AAA bond rating is a testament to his fiscally prudent leadership."

Circuit Judge Wendy Potts, who also presented remarks at the ceremony, related a story of Bullard's determination and ingenuity as a leader.

"When I was Chief Judge of the Circuit Court, I had the responsibility of releasing criminals from the jail when there was an overcrowding emergency," Judge Potts said. "There were several releases that were required by law in the years that Bill served as chairman of the County Board of Commissioners. He recognized that our jails were overcrowded on a continuous basis, and so he committed to work on the problem with the sheriff and the court to help ease the pressure."

As such, amendments to the state's Jail Overcrowding Emergency Act were drafted and then needed to be "sold to a number of groups," according to Judge Potts.

"Bill went to work in his own quiet way to sell these changes to judges throughout Oakland County by making personal visits to explain the legislation and to suggest revisions to the proposed legislation to satisfy concerns," she explained. "He then lent his hand and expertise at selling this plan to the leadership in the legislature."

Judge Potts said she was skeptical that the proposed legislation would make its way through the legislature, but it did and the "mass releases of criminals has virtually ended," she indicated.

"This did not completely solve the problem, however, so Bill kept working on solutions, including the county funded tether program, which, in reality, is a cost savings for the taxpayers," Judge Potts said. "He created the program which provides funding to underwrite the expense for jail inmates who might not otherwise qualify for tether because of the cost."

In short, Bullard is "not caught in the trap of cookie cutter approaches, and he entertains all potential programs and solutions," Judge Potts said.

Gordon Snavely, an attorney in Oakland County and a longtime friend of Bullard, echoed the comments, remarking to the audience, "Isn't it nice that someone who deserves a position, actually gets it!"

In addition to his extensive and distinguished career in public service, Bullard is "possessed with a mindset and perspective of life and people which is highly desirable and compatible with the clerk's office," Snavely said. "The office is designed to serve the considerable needs of the public, from birth to death. Basically, it's all about service and Bill understands that. In a word, he gets it."

Published: Thu, Jan 27, 2011