By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
The real question of life is not where you are now…It’s are you willing to create a vision larger than yourself so you can create something even better than before? – Tony Robbins
The 23-person field (including four incumbents) for only six seats makes this year’s Toledo City Council At-large race one of the city’s most competitive political contests ever.
Despite a large number of rivals, many of them fresh political faces, former city councilman and City of Toledo Finance Director George Sarantou is seeking a “piece of the action.”
Sarantou holds mayoral candidate Carty Finkbeiner’s powerful endorsement in his hand. The Toledo native is also banking on his professional expertise and experience to allow him to hit the jackpot by a return to public service once again after resigning as finance director in August 2017.
The following is my conversation with Sarantou about his potential return to Toledo City Council:
Perryman: What made you decide to enter the race for Toledo City Council At-large?
Sarantou: I served three full terms – 12 years – on city council, and I enjoyed it. Then I was finance director for almost four years for Mayor Michael D. Collins and Mayor Hicks-Hudson. I decided to get back in the arena because I’m not too fond of some of the things going on right now. I think that I can make a difference on city council.
Perryman: I’d like to follow up on that, but first, let me introduce or re-introduce you to our readers. Are you a Toledo native?
Sarantou: Born and raised in Toledo, a graduate of McKinley Elementary/Jr. High and DeVilbiss High School.
Perryman: Please describe your professional career and experience in public service.
Sarantou: I’ve been in the financial services business as a financial advisor 39 years. Along the way, I was elected to city council in 2001, reelected in 2005, and then reelected for a third final term in 2009. I had the pleasure of serving with Mayors Ford, Finkbeiner, Bell, Collins and Hicks-Hudson.
When my third term ended on city council, Mayor Collins asked me to be finance director, so I did that for almost four years. I still have my financial advising business from Mass Mutual, so that’s my story.
Perryman: What impact can you point to that would indicate the quality of your public service?
Sarantou: As chairman for 11 of my 12 years on council, I was the longest-serving chairman of the finance committee. We had some tough financial years, especially under Mayor Ford and Mayor Finkbeiner, where the budgets were very tight.
I’m most proud of that I was able to work with mayors of all different political persuasions, and I worked with them to do what’s best for the city. I never had a political agenda or tried to make a name for myself by arguing at council or taking on the mayor. I always felt my job was to make sure we balanced the budget and had enough revenue to pay our bills. And, when we got into challenging financial times to bite the bullet and make the reductions we had to make.
Perryman: Why should residents vote for you to return to city council?
Sarantou: I have a record of success in working with people of both political parties and independents. I have the financial background, which is very important in the city, but I also served on the Public Safety Committee for many years of council.
Right now, we have a very high crime rate, and that’s unacceptable. So, we need to have more cooperation, not just with various law enforcement agencies like the Toledo Police, the Lucas County Sherriff, but also the State Highway Patrol and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. We can all work together…
Perryman: Do you think that just merely adding police will solve the crime problem?
Sarantou: It’s a factor. It’s not going to solve all the crime problems; however, there’s no question in my mind that we need more police and fire personnel. They also need to be properly trained, especially to maintain the constitutional rights of people and address the challenges we have with our young people.
We also need to work with the courts – Toledo Municipal Court, Lucas County Common Pleas Court and Lucas County Juvenile Court. Many people who would be held in jail are being let out, and part of the problem is that we have a high rate of repeat offenders. We had a couple of shootings that occurred in the recent four to six weeks. The people had been arrested on felony charges, were let out right away, and had guns, and people got shot. That is a problem.
Perryman: That’s the old myth in response to court-ordered moves to reduce the overpopulation of jails due to the disproportionate number of black and brown incarcerated persons.
Overpopulation of jails developed due to black and brown people being jailed for nonviolent rather than violent offenses. Judges are not reducing or giving low bail to murderers. The over-incarceration problem is not something that should be addressed with perfunctory one-dimensional answers.
Sarantou: And I agree. Yes, there’s a very high proportion of African Americans in jail and prisons, which has to be addressed. But what I’m suggesting is that law enforcement agencies need to sit down with judges and figure out how to preserve people’s constitutional rights and reduce violent crime. Right now, it’s not working.
Perryman: My point is that law enforcement reactively addresses symptoms rather than root causes. We need to bring a lot more people to the table if we want to look at root causes.
Mayor Kapszukiewicz has talked about addressing violent crime from a public health perspective. African Americans have been traumatized from slavery to Jim Crow to the present era of over-policing and targeted enforcement of nonviolent crimes, contributing to their being disproportionally incarcerated. Is the Mayor correct to look at this from a public health standpoint?
Sarantou: Public health is one way of looking at this. So, there has to be a collaboration between law enforcement and the courts and mental health professionals and recreational professionals. We have to have more recreational programs and things for kids to do in the neighborhoods. Councilwoman Cecelia Adams has been a real leader in that area. I agree with her.
Perryman: After crime, what is the next most important issue for you?
Sarantou: I would say that the next important issue is improving our neighborhoods. First of all, we spent a lot of money in downtown Toledo. But again, what are we doing in the neighborhoods?
The federal government will give us almost $181 million in the next 12 months. I want to make sure that money is appropriately spent, especially in challenged areas and neighborhoods. It’s very important not only to clean up the neighborhoods but also to make sure that youngsters have programs for recreation. That federal money can be used for that.
Perryman: Please describe for our readers your experience in working with citizens from various cultural backgrounds?
Sarantou: When I first got on council, Mayor Ford was very active in having a program over at the Scott Park Campus for minority businesses. They learned how to bid for city business and all the procedures because it is complex. So, I’ve been committed to that since I got on council.
As I reflect on that, I think about my parents. Both my parents were Greek immigrants who came to the United States in 1920. Fortunately, my dad was able to get a job in the late ’30s at the Jeep Plant. He earned a good living and saved enough money to buy a tavern on Adams Street. But my dad got a break when he went to Jeep, and that’s what we need to do here. We need to make sure that all of our diverse citizenries have opportunities. If people have an opportunity, that will help them improve their financial life and raise their families. They’re going to hire people, spend money in the community, and that is an absolute win-win when you have that. So, that’s what we need to continue to do and it is more important than ever.
Perryman: Please talk about your service with diverse social services agencies over the years.
Sarantou: Theresa M. Gabriel asked me to join the Frederick Douglass Community Association around 1993. After three years, I became president of the board and remained another three years. That building needs help, by the way, and some of that federal money should be available to improve the facility.
I was also on the board of the Neighborhood Health Association. I served there and was president for two and a half years.
The Cordelia Martin Health Center was started because people of color were not getting proper healthcare. The Frederick Douglass Center goes back almost 100 years in the community.
So, I’m very familiar with the challenges in the city, especially around the Neighborhood Health Association and the Frederick Douglass Center. Those are important institutions that we need to continue to improve.
Perryman: Finally, what message do you want to get across to the public about your campaign?
Sarantou: I love the City of Toledo. I’m a lifelong resident. However, we need to do something about the high violent crime rate and the lack of recreational programs for our youth and adults. By the way, we also need to make sure that we’re spending our dollars wisely.
With my past history, financial background, and record in this community, I can work very well with many people from different political persuasions and backgrounds to make progress in the city. The City of Toledo and Northwest Ohio have enormous potential and our best days are still ahead of us. We need to continue to improve things.
Sarantou: Can I add one other thing?
Sarantou: In 2017, when I was director, the finance department and the city auditor discovered $8.2 million sitting in the wrong account. We found the funds in the finance department, and the city auditor found it simultaneously. So, we went to Mayor Hicks-Hudson, notified the outside CPA’s, and also Dave Yost, the auditor of the State of Ohio, and it got corrected.
But what’s strange and ironic is that I’ve been blamed for that.
The matter is that the previous administration put that money in the wrong account, never told us, and not one person in the finance department knew about it.
So, we’re the ones that discovered it and got it corrected. No money was ever missing, there was no criminal activity. We cleaned it up with the state auditor and placed the funds into the proper account.
My point is, I find it ironic that in the past, I was blamed for it when we’re the ones that discovered it. I met with the previous finance director before I took the job under Mayor Collins. Not a word ever came up about $8.2 million.
I just wanted to set the record straight.
Perryman: Thank you.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD at email@example.com