At age 29, Tony Stuart said he wanted to enter politics before he turned 40. It was a matter of getting involved and giving back.
Stuart, 35, was sworn in last week to Swanton Village Council to fill the unexpired term of longtime Councilor Paul Dzyak, who died Sept. 18. It’s an opportunity Stuart felt called to, though he’s never before held political office.
“I let God lead the way in my life, and at times he points me in directions and gives me opportunities that I just cannot pass up,” he said. “For how much I love the town, and how much the town has accepted me, I wanted to give back.”
A Swanton resident for 15 years, and a GED recipient in 2002, the Toledo native said he felt himself on a clear trajectory toward success, “and it was like, if you don’t take this opportunity, Tony, you’re going to kind of waste the momentum.”
He started work young, tutoring children in the foster care system at age 13. Between 2003-07, he worked for the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities, and spent ensuing years in various positions connected to the field. For over three years Stuart has operated his own multi-location business, Friends For Life Residential Care, for the disabled.
After some soul-searching with his wife, Stephanie, Stuart became one of the candidates vying for the village council seat. He was unanimously chosen, and received an outpouring of community support.
“I’m pretty confident. I’m looking at the (village) issues that are in line,” he said. “I’m also paying attention to the way that they’re currently being handled before I jump in too tough to shake the room. Sometimes, when it comes to differences of age and perspective, there is always room for some things to be shaken up, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, change needs to happen so we can all be better.”
To begin, Stuart is interested in visiting village businesses to get to know the employers and employees, what he calls “bootstrapping door to door. I think that that’s a good way to get an accurate look at any company, is to see what their lower staff think. Then we’ll look to the higher-ups.”
He wants to visit with residents as well. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has slowed down both attempts.
“It’s in my best interest, and I think the community’s best interest, that I get to know a lot of people in small business around here, and the residents who I do not have a personal relationship with,” he said.
One of Stuart’s main concerns is the financial strain the village is under. “We seem to have a lot of people who live here but not very many who work here. I think that that needs to change, it’s just how it’s going to change is going to be the tricky part,” he said.
In fact, the limited finances Swanton has to work with was an eye-opener, Stuart said. “I think there’s a lot of misconceptions for most people that think there’s unlimited funds everywhere, and you can just do anything and everything,” he said.
Another concern is updating the village infrastructure, but Stuart said that goes back to finding revenue sources. “That is a work in progress,” he said.
He’d also like to help citizens resolve differences of opinion that may cause problems, saying, “I do think people conversing is the perfect way to find out what either divides or unites us.”
His term expires Dec. 31, 2021, and Stuart intends to run again for the office. He emphasized that he is fully committed to focusing on the village during his current term, saying, “Due to my business background I don’t want anything to come off as I’m trying to take a personal advantage of this.”
For now, he’d like to have individual sit-downs with his fellow Council members “and get them to know who I am.”
Mayor Neil Toeppe said in short conversations he had with Stuart prior to his village council appointment “I found him to be very intelligent, very thoughtful, and very personable. My impression of Mr. Stuart is extraordinarily positive.”
A father of five, Stuart said what he most wants to bring to Swanton in his position is understanding.
“‘Understanding’ is the best word I can use,” he said. “If employees understand employers, and vice-versa, there can be change. I think if neighbor understood neighbor, things could change. We wouldn’t have to have such a divisive nation, or town for that matter. I can’t wait to get to work for the community as hard as I can.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.