Council Ignores Voters
Akron City Council Once Again on the Edge of Racism
A Special Report from The Reporter News Team
(Akron, OH) -- “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Try sharing that childhood ditty with Imokhai Okolo the Black Akron attorney, who has been repeatedly rejected by City Council from taking a seat on the newly-created police oversight board.
Opponents say they’ve voted against Okolo largely because of a post he put on social media referring to Akron police as “pigs” after Jayland Walker was gunned down by eight officers last June.
Last week, four white councilmembers Jeff Fusco, Brad McKitrick, Mike Freeman, and Phil Lombardo voted against selecting Okola during a council meeting that went on past midnight. A week later, the same four councilmen repeatedly voted against Okolo and were joined by Councilman Donnie Kammer in their opposition. Black councilmember Ginger Baylor abstained from the vote citing a conflict of interest, even though she’d voted in favor of Okolo at last week’s meeting. Those votes left the oversight measure three votes shy of the nine-vote super-majority
needed for passage of the complete slate.
Voting for the measure on the most recent ballot was Margo Somerville, Nancy Holland, Shammas Malik, Tara Mosley, Russ Neal and Linda Omobien, who last week referred to the Walker killing as a police murder, and she was excoriated for doing so by the Akron police union and APD Police Chief Steve Mylett.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the clerk of council sent out notice of a special council meeting for 4 p.m. the following day (Wednesday) to further address the oversight board. Included in that agenda was one resolution to appoint all three of the mayor’s recommendations for the panel: Beverly Richards, Tristan Reed, and Shawn Peoples. The mayor’s choices only require a simple majority (seven votes of the 13-member council) for approval.
Five other separate resolutions each requiring a super-majority of votes seek to appoint the council’s recommendations, which include Donzell Anuszkiewicz, Kemp Boyd , Caitlin Castle, Robert Gippin, and Diane Lewis. These names were to be considered one by one – a reversal of the process council used for previous ballots.
Absent from the list of council recommendations, however, was Okolo;
and the latest council process left vacant one of the nine seats called for by the voter-approved charter amendment which created the nine- member oversight board. Some on council and other community leaders are concerned that Okola’s past actions are being questioned primarily by four white
“The tactic behind this is not to embarrass or assassinate Imokhai’s character, but to undermine faith in the (oversight) board,” Councilwoman Mosley said. “What’s at issue here is the legitimacy of the board; that’s why I question the opposition of the four white men on council.”
Akron NAACP President Judi Hill also expressed her suspicion of some
members of council.
“It reeks of racism, and it reeks of their not wanting Okola,” Hill said. “We all know this has less to do with the Facebook post, and more to do with his work… with Freedom Bloc.
“He did some work with Freedom BLOC, and I believe this has more to do with that, than with anything else,” she said. Freedom BLOC (Black Led Organizing Collaborative) is a political action organization dedicated to issues of social justice. It’s executive director, Rev. Ray Greene, has often been at odds with council.
Councilman Russ Neal is so frustrated with the stalemate that he’s presented a resolution to have all the policies and practices of the city council and the mayor’s administration audited by an outside agency.
“(The oversight panel) is being held up by politics,” Neal said exclusively to The Reporter. “There is a veil of politics underneath all this. The backroom discussions have taken place, and it’s the institutional practices that have created this toxic environment.”
Neal’s resolution, which is languishing in committee, calls for council to willingly submit itself and the administration to outside scrutiny from the Ohio Ethics Commission and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to determine whether and how Akron policies and practices have breached the trust of the citizenry.
“There has been a strong appearance that Council members have violated the elected oath of office that requires that they be able to honestly, impartially and faithfully perform the duties of office, the resolution read.
Neal explained further: “There are toxic politics involved here, and the citizens have lost trust in their government. This culture won’t even allow us to seat a citizens review board.”
In the midst of the controversy, council missed a Feb. 27 deadline to seat the oversight panel.
Neal would not rule out seeking a court injunction to force council to act in accordance with the amended City charter.