As residents of Wayne County we all have a stake in our community, we care. The government is there to work with us and serve us as a community and we need to be as informed and connected as possible with our government and officials. It was in that spirit that we invited Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree, father of three successful adult children, to the conversion table, here is what he shared with us.
being interviewed by the Publisher of the Yemeni American News. Photo by Abbas Shehab
“It’s hard to talk about myself but I can tell you that I’m basically the same type of person that I’ve been for a long time. It’s amazing how much you stay the same from childhood to adulthood. I had a good family I had a good mother and father. That’s one good thing we had a good foundation. Our parents made sure we went to school and learned, they were very serious about education.”
Education is truly a key pillar in the life of Treasurer Sabree, from the Catholic schools of this childhood in New York to the public middle schools of Metro Detroit then back to a Christian infused education at Catholic Central in Detroit and finally ending up with a Building Construction Management degree from Michigan State University.
Another key quality of Treasurer Sabree is his passion for sports, service and good old-fashioned hard work. He started working at a drugstore at age 9 making $3 a day, took on some paper routes soon after and even sold souvenirs at the old Tiger Stadium. “I started studying plumbing in high school. A friend’s father was a plumber so I worked with him part-time in high school and then when I got up to Michigan State I started working in the plumbing shop and taking classes in the apprenticeship program.” Not easy to balance a difficult collegiate class schedule, work part-time plumbing 28 hours per week and pursuing a plumbing career all at once. “And lifting weights, so my grades were OK but I had less than a 3.0. So it wasn’t good, I could’ve done much better. Nevertheless, I was doing plumbing work because I wanted to get my plumbing license. I worked all the holidays.”
Treasurer Sabree is clear-headed and decisive as one can see when he was confronted with a choice in High School when his competitive wrestling coach heard that he was weightlifting and asked him, “You got to make up your mind, weightlifting or wrestling which is it? What you gonna do?” As Eric recalls, “So I just said, ‘I like weightlifting!’ I stuck with the weightlifting. If you’re going to give me an ultimatum.”
While driving an ice cream delivery truck for Melody Farms delivering ice cream to grocery and drug stores he met a man named Jeff who would change his life forever introducing him to Islam for the first time. “He started talking to me about Islam. He invited me out to a meeting and I go out and listened and I got more interested. I started studying more and that’s how I got involved with being a Muslim because I had a coworker who was talking to me all the time. I was an altar boy in the Catholic Church. I would say the main difference to me is the Trinitarian doctrine, Jesus being the Son of God versus Jesus being a prophet. Sometimes people feel confused when they see me they say, ‘How can you be a Muslim?’ They feel almost like you’re a traitor. I just tell them, ‘you know I benefited from much of the knowledge I received in the Catholic Church because it was good teaching, some of the messages are good. But I found in the study of Islam that my relationship with Almighty God became more secure. I feel closer I feel more comfortable with my relationship with Almighty God.”
This sense was deepened reading Malcolm X and spending an unlikely day with the world-famous Muhammad Ali back in the 80s, “I asked him about the religion, ‘What do you really think about religion? He said, ‘Look, believe in what you would believe in if you were on an island all by yourself.’ That’s really good advice because then you really know what you believe in because there’s nobody there to influence you.”
His career and qualifications are varied and extensive and could be characterized by a persistent look into the future and serving others. “I started working with nonprofit housing programs, renovating homes and being a project manager for home renovations. I worked with them doing the estimates helping people with energy conservation. This is really where I started my public service work because I liked helping people. I was working for the city for 18 years. I went to work for the city building department and I was an inspector and I became a supervisor and went to the housing commission.”
Adding a stint in the insurance business and owning his own law firm working immigration and asylum cases, Treasurer Sabree really knows his way around the county. “When I came to Wayne County it was as an attorney over the nuisance abatement program. We were trying to remove nuisance properties, get them repaired. I got familiar with the property taxes in the treasurer’s office. I went to work for the treasurer because I was familiar with it and one of the deputies left and he asked me to come over there as deputy. That was a good opportunity. Richard Hathaway came in as the treasurer and I was his Chief Deputy. After 4 months he decided to resign. I got appointed first and then immediately I had to file for election. I was successful. I’ve been the treasurer for two years, elected in 2016 and would run again in 2020 for another four-year term.”
Some good things are happening under his leadership, “We’ve been able to look at our policies and procedures. We brought in the Plante Moran firm to look at all the policies and procedures. They just finished the audit of how we should improve. We’ve been doing more training for the staff. We instituted the kiosk program where people could pay at over 40 remote locations with cash, checks or credit cards. We have 92 employees in the office.”
On the challenges that he’s facing, he says “the challenge is you can’t help everyone. That’s what makes it difficult. Some people you’re just not gonna be able to help them because they have no money at all. Some people they get very angry. They come ready for a fight but after I talk to them for a while then usually we can resolve the issue. The other challenge is the internal training and being consistent in the staff making sure they’re doing everything consistently and efficiently.”
On the programs, the County has been offering to help the residents. He adds “We give people as much time as we can to help keep them in their homes. It’s critical, especially the owner occupants. With the tenants, we have programs that allow them even if the house is in foreclosure the city is getting money through Quicken loans and others to buy these properties before the auction so that the tenant get the chance to become an owner through the program. Come down to the office, call and make sure you get the information that you need. Even if you need $2000 to save your house or get back into the payment plan which is 6% interest per year we’re going to handle every case by case before we foreclose to see if there’s anything we can do to help them.”
At the end of the interview, Treasurer Sabree said “there’s a lot of good things happening in Wayne County right now. Don’t give up now because things are getting better! The government is supposed to help you and I believe in the people. Do whatever you can to save your property that’s the biggest asset that you have most likely. It’s an honor to serve as treasurer. I take the job very seriously”