During a 20-year run in local and state politics, Lucas County Recorder Jeanine Perry developed a healthy respect for the relationships she said make government work for the people.
“We’re really in this together. There’s a time to wear the political hat. There’s a time to take it off,” Mrs. Perry said. “I think the negativity that we see just takes away from getting the work done.”
Mrs. Perry next month ends her term as recorder, having decided not to seek a second full term. Before that, she was a Toledo councilman from Point Place and eight-year member of the Ohio General Assembly from Toledo. She leaves the recorder’s office to fellow Democrat Phil Copeland, who was elected in November.
She has come a long way from Lockport, Ill., outside Joliet, where she started her teaching career. She was a student in a junior college and one day the parish priest called her mother and told her the parochial school needed a teacher: Could Jeanine teach the class?
“My mother said yes, and then my mom told me what I was going to do and I did it,” Mrs. Perry recalled, with a laugh, marveling at how times have changed.
While she was in college, her father, who worked in the oil-refining industry, was transferred to Oregon.
Mrs. Perry enrolled at the now-closed Mary Manse College in Toledo, then transferred to the University of Toledo, where she obtained her degree.
Mrs. Perry was lauded on the occasion of her retirement from public service by Toledo City Council on Dec. 18.
“If there was ever a politician that everyone liked, it’s you,” Mr. Copeland said before a vote on a resolution in city council.
During that meeting, the former educator took the opportunity of Central Catholic and Whitmer High School football players being in the audience in city council chambers to be honored for their championship seasons, to encourage them to think of politics as a possible goal.
“What you’re doing on the football field and what you’re doing in school is what you can do here,” Mrs. Perry said, gesturing to the city council panel. “You take what you believe in, you take control, and then you work, work, work, drive, drive, drive.”
Mrs. Perry exudes order, but with a motherly, and now grandmotherly, smile.
The recorder’s office, with 13 staff members, maintains land records, including deeds and liens, along with veterans' discharge records. She attends to the smallest duties of the recorder’s job, including making a daily deposit with the county auditor and treasurer of the day’s receipts.
On her desk one day last week was a four-page list of office equipment, down to the number of chairs and coat racks in each department, which she was filling out to meet an annual requirement by the state.
Other recorders might find the office adequately overseen by checking in a few mornings a week, but Mrs. Perry has been a full-time recorder, and was often in the office the full day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“I just believe all hands on deck gets the job done. I don’t think there’s any one way of running a business or an office. This was my way of doing it and I’ve enjoyed it,” she said. “When I’m here, I know the environment is as positive as we can make it, and I know we’re going to get good results.”
Issues, rather than controversies, have been the landmarks of Mrs. Perry's career.
Ten years’ service on the Toledo Board of Education by her husband, sheriff’s Deputy Ken Perry, now retired, gave Mrs. Perry some grass-roots experience in politics.
In 1988, she led a campaign against a proposed $2.1 million sludge-processing facility at the city’s wastewater treatment plant, which is near a major gateway to the Point Place community in North Toledo where her family lived.
In 1989, she managed the mayoral campaign of Democrat John McHugh when he unseated Republican Mayor Donna Owens.
She was appointed to a vacancy on council in 1992. Mrs. Perry ran in the 1993 primary in a large field of candidates and came in second in the primary. That was the last election she lost. She went on to win the election and became the first of five people, Democrat Wade Kapszukiewicz, Republican Joe Birmingham, Democrat John Henry Fullen, and now Democrat Lindsay Webb, to represent the district that includes Point Place and parts of North and West Toledo.
She led the successful opposition to putting a state prison on Stickney Avenue in North Toledo. Eventually, the Stickney site became home to the Jeep assembly plant and the prison ended up in a neglected area of North Toledo known as Goose Hill.
“In time history proves us to be right or wrong, and that proved to be a good decision,” Mrs. Perry said. “It wasn’t an easy two years going through that. I’m still on the advisory board of the prison, and we meet quarterly.”
About the only time there was controversy associated with Mrs. Perry was in 1995, when the county Republican chairman accused her of a conflict of interest when she objected to a $414,500 budget request for then-Clerk of Courts Maggie Thurber, a Republican. Mrs. Perry’s husband was running for the seat in the 1995 election, which he lost.
In 1998 Mrs. Perry was asked by the Democratic Party to run for the state House of Representatives against Republican incumbent John Garcia of East Toledo. Mrs. Perry won that election, the first of four elections to the state assembly in Columbus.
As a lawmaker, she said, “I was able to see what can be done when you have good working relationships.”
Her colleague from Toledo, former Democratic state Rep. Peter Ujvagi, said Mrs. Perry made no enemies, but wasn’t a pushover.
“There comes a point where Jeanine, as friendly and nice as she is, she assumes what I call her teacher voice. It brings everybody up very quickly,” Mr. Ujvagi recalled.
Before starting her political career, Ms. Perry was a full-time teacher from 1967 to 1971 at Toledo Catholic schools, and then a substitute teacher until 1982, while being mostly a stay-at-home mom to her two children. Son Doug is now a police sergeant at the University of Toledo, and daughter Joan Perry Szafarowicz teaches at Scott High School.
After 1982, she ran a prevention and education program at Substance Abuse Services Inc. under SASI's executive director, Jack Ford, then a member of city council and later Toledo’s mayor.
Mrs. Perry was appointed in 2007 to the vacant Lucas County recorder position after Recorder Anita Lopez was elected auditor. She ran for the office and was elected in 2008.
About that time, Mrs. Perry and her husband moved from Point Place to Sylvania Waterside, an adult community in Sylvania Township.
Asked whether she thinks the office should be rolled in with the auditor’s and treasurer’s offices to become appointed officials, Mrs. Perry said she still wants to see a cost analysis. She said the office runs efficiently, and the public is protected by a system of checks and balances.
A group of government reformers last year unsuccessfully tried to put on the ballot a Lucas County charter that would get rid of 10 elected county row offices, of which recorder is one, and replace them with a single elected county executive who would appoint people to do their jobs.
“Whether it’s a huge change in government or purchasing a car, you have to know how much it costs,” Mrs. Perry said.
One reform that Mrs. Perry would welcome is an end to term limits, or at least extending the terms. She said lawmakers from lesser-populated areas of the state, including Toledo, are at a disadvantage compared with lawmakers from Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.
“The lobbying firms in Columbus are generational. They’re passed down from father to son and father to daughter. For the legislators, it’s eight years and you’re out,” Mrs. Perry said.
“Areas like Toledo, we don’t have the numbers. We can’t put together the votes without creating relationships, and with term limits it's hard to build those relationships.”
Mrs. Perry said she’s finished with running for elected office as of Jan. 4, her last day on the job.
“I’m going to take a long winter nap, and then I’m just going to spend more time with family, friends, and my neighbors,” Mrs. Perry said.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.