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Steven Steel: Packing Up His Public Office and Moving into a Private One

By Fletcher Word
Sojourner’s Truth Editor

“I was fortunate enough to serve during the worst budget crunch since the Great Depression,” says outgoing Toledo City Council President Steven Steel of his first half dozen years on council. “It was smoke and mirrors,” he adds of the tasks the council and city administration started to face in 2008 as the recession took a stranglehold on the Rust Belt.

Steven Steel

For Steel, who arrived on Council in 2009 after several years of service on the Toledo Board of Education which continually faces financial shortfalls, the good fortune he refers to are the lessons learned and the experience gained in managing the City’s finances during such desperate times. Such lessons are invaluable at all times, even now that the big troubles have passed and the City’s revenues have improved.

Now, as things improve, Steel is term-limited from continuing on the job but he predicts that the task of managing the City’s finances won’t necessarily become any easier. During the tough times, he remembers, unions, workers and those expecting services to be delivered, tended to work together to make concessions. “Because of those concessions, when will they want something back?” he asks. “Now the difficulty is working with more money.”

However, as Steel reflects on his years of public service, revenue shortfalls have been the norm. “In my elective life, it’s all I’ve ever known,” he says. “Now that times are good, do I have to leave?” he says jokingly.

However, as he packs his office in preparation for his final hours in elected office and thinks about the major frustrations of the past years, revenue shortfalls are not at the top of the list. There are two major frustrations that he recalls.

First, he mentions the limited ability of council members to fulfill expectations on their own.

“I noticed this during the recent elections,” he says. “People [council candidates] would say ‘I’m going to fix the streets, bring in jobs , improve education.’ But council’s ability is extremely limited – we don’t  determine jobs or streets to be paved; we don’t deploy. We are a liaison not a decision maker. We appropriate money but the city administration decides what to do [with that money].”

Reflecting  on his relationships with the four administrations he has served with, the council president recalls good relations with all four. He singles out Mike Bell for his handling of “the most difficult of economic times” and his responsiveness to that difficulty.

Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson has earned Steel’s admiration for her relationship with City Council. “She had the best handle on the frustrations of City Council,” he adds.

And Steel’s second major frustration over the past eight-plus years has been with the internal workings of council. Having come from a five-body Board of Education where it was comparatively easy to put together a stable three-person majority on a variety of issues and votes, the change was dramatic.

Toledo City Council’s 12-person body requires a seven-person majority and that leads to so much more fluidity. “Here, alliances ebb and flow,” he says. “You may think someone is with you but, if they are, it is the exception not the rule.”

There is quite a lot that Steel is satisfied with as he thinks about the last eight years. Money shortages notwithstanding, Steel, a long-time Old West End resident, feels that Toledo has become a much “cooler city” in which to live – bike paths, golf carts downtown, for example, the growth of entertainment districts and commercial and retail establishments.

Companies such as Cleveland Cliffs have brought more jobs, the hospitals are growing and downtown is surging.

He leaves the 21st floor of One Government Center “cautiously optimistic” about the progress the city has made. “We’ve turned a corner with the economy and downtown – but a lot of infrastructure and neighborhoods need work.”

Even though he will no longer be an elected official, Steel’s commitment to improving the lives of his fellow citizens will remain an important part of his daily tasks.

During the last few years Steel earned a law degree and started a part-time practice in labor and employment law. He will be employed full-time in January “protecting people’s rights.” as he says. “I’m going to be protecting those who are easily exploitable.”



Copyright © 2017 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 08/16/18 14:12:35 -0700.

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