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Sarantou has high hopes for new post

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    George Sarantou, a West Toledo Republican, is a financial adviser and councilman.

    The Blade/Jeremy Wadsworth
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As a child, George Sarantou regularly went downtown by bus from West Toledo to shop, go to the dentist, or attend church.

Decades later, he's still going downtown from his home in West Toledo.

"I'm going to be the same George that I've been on [city] council, and that is try to figure out the information, how best can we serve the public, what's the most efficient way to provide services," said Mr. Sarantou, the unofficial winner of a seat on the Lucas County Board of Commissioners.

Mr. Sarantou, 58, a Republican, defeated Democrat Carol Contrada of Sylvania Township by 68,317 to 66,941 votes -a difference of 1,376 votes, or 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent - according to unofficial returns.

The outcome is uncertain because of 4,145 provisional ballots to be counted when the Lucas County Board of Elections meets Nov. 22.

If he is certified as commissioner, Mr. Sarantou will be the lone Republican among two Democrats who are in midterm - Peter

Gerken and Tina Skeldon Wozniak. He would replace Democrat Ben Konop, who did not seek a second term.

A financial adviser who has led Toledo City Council's budget and finance committee for eight years, Mr. Sarantou said he would focus initially on surplus funds of as much as $200 million held by county agencies, the county budget, and economic development.



"The budget and the reserve funds are a top priority right now. If there's money that can be used for certain services the county's responsible for, then we need to know that," he said.

He said his main concern is with public safety, and said he's heard complaints from the townships that they don't get the same level of law enforcement since the Lucas County Sheriff's Office has trimmed patrols in the townships.

The board of commissioners has cut more than $20 million in the last 2 1/2 years because of state funding cuts and a decline in sales tax revenue.

Mr. Sarantou said he wants to see if $200 million really is socked away at county agencies - and whether it can be used in the county's general fund.

He said there may be expenditures that the departments themselves should be making. For example, he said the Lucas County Children Services Board should hire child-abuse investigators instead of sitting on a $20 million reserve.

"If the caseloads are too heavy, and I'm told by some that they are, can we use that money for that purpose?" Mr. Sarantou asked.

As for whether he would support lowering the children services' levy to reduce property taxes, as Mr. Konop has advocated, Mr. Sarantou said he hasn't received enough information.

"I am stunned there is that much money in reserve. It warrants a total look at every department," he said.

Mr. Sarantou said he would support using a nearly $1 million surplus in the dog warden's fund to pay for improvements including adding an adoption area and possibly reducing the dog license fee.

"Having toured those facilities about two months ago, there is absolutely a need to improve the physical layout of those offices. And, yes, I would support more adoption programs, and there needs to be an adoption area designated," Mr. Sarantou said.

He has stayed neutral on whether to reorganize Lucas County government, which was a major unrealized goal of Mr. Konop, but which neither Mr. Gerken nor Ms. Wozniak has endorsed.

Mr. Sarantou said he is eager to see the results of a study committee looking into whether Lucas County would be better served by an alternative form of government.

"What we need is a plan to carefully evaluate, look at the situation, and make some decisions," he said.

He said he was not ready to sign on to a Cuyahoga County-style reform, adding that he's not convinced that a switch to a county executive-county council form of government would save money or that it would improve the regional economy.

Mr. Konop has cited lack of population growth, rising poverty and bankruptcy, and declining median income as evidence of the need for a more centralized and powerful county government than the current arrangement, which distributes county power among 11 elected officials.

Mr. Sarantou called himself "pretty much a West Toledo guy," who always had a hankering for public office.

"I wanted to get into politics since I was about age 12," Mr. Sarantou said. "I thought that would be the neatest thing to just change the world."

The son of Greek immigrant parents, Mr. Sarantou said that as a youth he went downtown at least once a week on the bus to go shopping with his mother or to take Greek language lessons at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

Those trips often involved a stop at his father's business, Mike's Bar, at 15th and Adams streets, now a vacant lot. "It was fun to come downtown because you met very interesting people. My dad had a good cross section of customers," he said.

He went to McKinley Elementary School at Upton and Central avenues, the former DeVilbiss High School, and Ohio State University.

He was inspired by the politicians he encountered, including former Mayor John Potter and former Gov. Jim Rhodes when Mr. Rhodes campaigned at the University of Toledo for election to a second term.

Mr. Sarantou said he briefly was a Democrat, supporting Lyndon Johnson for president in 1964.

"In 1966, I came to the conclusion that the federal government was too big and the Republican Party was the way to go," he said.

After college, Mr. Sarantou worked for the Sylvania Municipal Court and then the state of Ohio but decided he needed to be self-employed to run for office.

He settled on financial services and is now a financial adviser and registered representative for Brennan Financial Group Ltd., with an office downtown.

Married in 1982, he and his wife, Barbara, have three daughters.

Mr. Sarantou was unsuccessful in his first run for city council in 1997 but went on to win in 2001 and again in 2005 and 2009, each time garnering more votes than the last. He ran for county commissioner in 2006 but lost to Mr. Konop 64-36 percent.

As a councilman, Mr. Sarantou served from 2003 to the present as chairman of council's budget and finance committee, even though council was under Democratic control.

Some on council complained that, as budget chairman, he was too deferential to Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who increased the city's general fund budget when he retook office in 2006, after four years of nearly flat budgets by former Mayor Jack Ford.

Starting in early 2009, the city cut services and laid off police officers to avoid double-digit budget deficits.

"Some of us felt, in living some of those battles, that he could have provided a stronger counterweight, particularly to Mayor Finkbeiner's spending increases in those years," former City Councilman Frank Szollosi, a Democrat, said.

Former Council President Louis Escobar, who appointed Mr. Sarantou chairman of the budget and finance committee in 2003, said Mr. Sarantou kept a close eye on city spending through his monthly hearings with the administration's budget team.

But he said he was disappointed Mr. Sarantou didn't send up more of a warning from the budget committee that the city was heading into a deficit in 2008.

Mr. Sarantou said he made his opinions known in meetings with the mayor and that he worked hard to organize public hearings and give the city's budget issues a thorough airing.

Mr. Sarantou would enter the commissioner chambers experienced in the ways of local government and well acquainted with his two new colleagues, with whom he worked on council. He also knows the county administrator, Peter Ujvagi, who was city council president in Mr. Sarantou's first year on council.

He said he would bring "maturity" to the board. "I'm going to act in a mature manner in making decisions and in voicing my opinion. I think that's what the public expects," Mr. Sarantou said.

Although they both supported Mrs. Contrada in the election, Mr. Gerken and Ms. Wozniak said they welcome Mr. Sarantou.

For one thing, he won't be Mr. Konop, who has fought with his two Democratic colleagues on almost every major issue since he joined the board in 2007.

"We know him and we know that he'll work hard to bring a new perspective and new voice," Ms. Wozniak said of Mr. Sarantou. "He'll be hardworking. He'll be talented. He'll serve the citizens well."

Mr. Gerken said Mr. Sarantou brings financial expertise and a collaborative style.

"George's style has never been divisive. George has been very even-tempered, thoughtful; he does his homework before he brings items up. He usually has a purpose for his agenda item, rather than just spitballing and seeing what reaction he gets," Mr. Gerken said.

Mr. Konop - the only one of the three commissioners who has not yet spoken with Mr. Sarantou - said he would want Mr. Sarantou to continue his efforts to bring "transformative change."

"I was very aggressive in trying to champion different policies and large-scale change," Mr. Konop said. "George, I don't think, has that as a philosophy, to make any type of big transformative change or even support that type of change."

He said he hopes Mr. Sarantou continues his own role of questioning and challenging decisions made by Mr. Gerken and Ms. Wozniak, who invariably took sides against Mr. Konop.

"If he at least puts the county's best interests in front of his own interests, then he will be a success," Mr. Konop said.

Contact Tom Troy at:

or 419-724-6058.

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