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Jumping in at the Deep End

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

You never really feel ready, there is always sometime more that your mind tells you you should be doing. However, the trick is to be able to show up and perform no matter what the circumstance.
-  Natalie Cook


Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

It has been a mere four months since Cerssandra McPherson plunged headlong into the deep and tumultuous waters of Toledo politics. The fledgling city councilwoman finds herself trying to keep her head above water on a policy-making legislative body that has had to navigate a once-in-a-century pandemic, rising violence, allegations of public corruption and deteriorating police-community relations. 

I spoke with McPherson concerning her experience surviving and thriving in Toledo City Councilís sink or swim environment. The following is our discussion.

Perryman: Please describe how you have journeyed through life to arrive at Toledo City Council. 

McPherson: Born and raised in Toledo. I went to Toledo Public Schools and graduated from Libbey High School.  When this opportunity came about, I talked to my family members because Iím my momís caregiver. My oldest brother and a couple of friends told me to go for it because youíll never know if you donít. So, thatís what I did. 

Perryman: Please talk about your work experience and educational background.

McPherson:  Iíve worked for Toledo Public Schools for 32 years as a paraprofessional, a staff rep for Toledo Federation of Teachers, and I love working with students. My passion is special ed students.  I attended the University of Toledo to get my bachelorís in special education but have not completed it.  I belong to Braden United Methodist Church and attended there all my life. In addition to working in the church, I serve on the West Ohio United Methodist Conference as a certified lay servant.

Perryman: Please describe how your experiences have prepared or assisted your role as councilperson?

McPherson: Weíre looking now at the cityís budget. Being at the church, I was chairman of the trustee board and the finance committee. So, I understand that process. Mind you, the cityís budget is 12 times larger than the churchís budget and entails a lot more, but a budget is a budget. Youíre looking at line items and whatís the reality versus the wish list. You have to make decisions about what you can do and canít do.

Cerssandra McPherson

Councilwoman Cerssandra McPherson with families of murder victims

With labor, I understand contracts and unions and what theyíre looking for versus what the city is looking for. So, I can give my input on that. 

And then, being in education, Iíve served on various committees. Again, my passion is young people and so with the city, looking at ways that we can implement programs and opportunities for our young people is a high priority for me. 

Perryman: Describe your experience working with citizens from a) various cultural backgrounds and b) diverse generational categories.

McPherson:  As a city official, I have not worked with many cultural backgrounds.  Itís hard not being able to get out and actually meet people with everything being on Zoom because of COVID.  Iím meeting mostly officials and directors. I have talked to landlords, mostly white landlords, expressing their concerns with Section 8 vouchers and not agreeing with how itís coming down. I do understand where theyíre coming from.

I struggle with decisions that are maybe good for some, but not good for all. Thatís when I have to take some quiet time and pray for direction because I want to do my best for all of Toledo citizens, understanding that often the decisions that you make are not going to be popular with some of the people. 

Perryman: Interests often diverge when weíre talking about diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds or various socioeconomic backgrounds, including the haves and the have nots. What is your experience in balancing these diverse interests?

McPherson:  My seniors are very important to me as well as young people. That was one of my concerns over the shooting at the Parqwood Apartments because I was under the impression that the Parqwood Apartments were still just for seniors. Now, you can reside under 55 if you have a disability.  I was not aware of that and when I went over there that night of the shooting until the police officers clarified that for me. 

When I did the press conference there, my concern was for the seniors staying in that complex. I talked with them and wanted them to know that weíre working with LMH to ensure that they feel safe and Iíve been back over there a couple of times since then.  I served Christmas dinner with the manager and also brought breakfast for the young residents because I didnít want it just to be a one-time thing.

Then, dealing with the haves and the have nots, I guess thatís the bulk of the Section 8 voucher issue. I understand the intent is to help widen the opportunities for voucher holders to live anywhere, though I donít believe the legislation is the best way to make that happen.

Perryman: Please elaborate.

McPherson:  Landlords that donít want people with Section 8 vouchers staying in their properties will find a way to get around it because not all, but those that are just adamant against it, are going to do other things to make that not happen.  I think we do more harm than good in some ways, and that was my take on the section 8 voucher legislation.

I think that LMH could purchase more properties and self-place residents versus saying to landlords that you have to accept these vouchers. 

Perryman: What is the most pressing issue facing Toledo?

McPherson: I think there are two.  The rise of homelessness in Toledo is increasing every day because people are being evicted. Second, the gun violence in the City of Toledo is crazy.

Perryman: How do we address these problems?

McPherson: As I told the mayor, weíve got to admit that there is a problem and that it is important to us and by investing dollars to rectify it with young folk.  Put down the guns and pick up what?  What are we offering?  Where are the opportunities?  What programs are out there for young people right now? 

Perryman: Are our neighborhoods healthy?

McPherson:   No.

Perryman: What would you do to change them?

McPherson:   They used to be called neighborhoods, then they took off the neighbor and just called it a Ďhood because we no longer have neighbors.  Weíve got to invest in our neighborhoods.  We have so many abandoned houses and, if theyíre not abandoned, theyíre halfway up, half down. 

Perryman: In what neighborhood do you live?

McPherson:   Iím on Avondale, right off of Junction in the Junction Coalition area. Just on my block, we have maybe five houses left now, and four of them are empty.

Perryman: Two final questions, you can answer in which order you want, but the first one is if you had a $2 million grant, how would you choose to spend that money? Number two, when you hear about something that concerns your constituents, what steps do you take to see that the concern is resolved?

McPherson:   Iíll take the latter one, first.

Once a resident shares an issue with me, I tell them to please leave your name and number and give me 24 hours to get back to you. If you have not heard back from me in 24 hours, call me back, I will not be offended.

And, since Iím still learning how to navigate the system, having a go-to person you can contact with questions is invaluable. I usually call Mr. D (Gerald Dendinger), our Clerk of Council, because he is so knowledgeable. He often directs me, or if itís something with having your alley cleaned or having some garbage picked up or something, I can call Engage Toledo myself, tell them what the issue is. Theyíre usually pretty good about taking care of it. 

I had a gentleman call me the other day and said city sewage is backing up in his basement. He had been trying unsuccessfully to contact his district councilperson. I told him that I would forward the email to his district councilperson and Ed Moore, who is over public utilities, to look into it.  Thatís how I handle concerns. I try to direct constituents to the correct person, and then Iíll call that person back to see if theyíve gotten the issue resolved. If they havenít, then Iíll just recycle and do it all over again. 

The two-million-dollar question? I would use the funding for youth programs, youth summer jobs and incentives for young people.

Perryman: Early on, you stressed that you had to jump right into, what was for you, a new and unfamiliar experience. Please elaborate on your experience of still learning to navigate the process.  

McPherson:   Yes, itís a lot to navigate, and thereís a lot to learn. The four of us new council members were dropped straight in the deep end.  We were sworn in on Friday, and we had a council meeting on Tuesday. You didnít have a lot of preparation time, so itís in and get moving.  Just learning the procedures of how they do their agenda meetings versus the actual council meeting and how things are brought to council is a massive task.

Perryman: What can you tell others who find themselves thrown into a similar sink or swim situation?

McPherson: Everybody has their own agenda, and I tell people I am a team player, and there are 12 members to this team. I always want to play with the team, under the concept that we are better together and we can do great things together.  That is my motto.  We donít have to agree upon everything, but we can agree to disagree and always stand as a united front when we are out front.  I am not delusional in thinking that I can come up with grandiose ideas and make them happen all by myself. I need the other 11 players to make it happen. 

I also want people to understand that we have to be compassionate and show people that we care. I donít have all the answers, but Iím out here trying.  Are you your brotherís keeper?  Yes.  Iím out every third Saturday feeding the homeless because Iím blessed to be able to do it, and God has placed that on me to do. Iím all for the people, and I pray each day that God gives me everything that I need to do his will in this position. If and when I falter, I can forgive myself, get up and try to get it right the next day. Thatís it.

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at drdlperryman@centerofhopebaptist.org





Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 01/06/21 10:02:33 -0500.



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