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Council wants input on public commenting

2/16/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Akron City Council also OKs capital budget, White Pond land sale

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Akron City Council’s Rules Committee will have a public hearing Feb. 27 at 1 p.m. on changes to City Council meeting procedures.

The proposed changes are the result of a charter amendment approved by Akron voters in November to establish a public speaking period during Council meetings.

In 2010, Council instituted a trial public input session beginning 30 minutes before every regular Council meeting. At least one member of Council is present during that time period. The proposed changes would essentially formalize that arrangement.

Also changing would be a requirement pertaining to those who wish to speak during a Council or committee meeting. Currently, those individuals must submit a request 12 hours before the meeting. That would change to eight hours, allowing the person to make the request on the morning of a Council meeting.

The provision that members of the Committee on Committees — which establishes the makeup on Council committees — be determined by seniority also would change so that the president of Council would appoint the members.

During the Rule Committee meeting Feb. 13, Councilman Michael Williams (D-at large) said he doesn’t think the proposed change to the public speaking measure is consistent with the charter amendment approved by voters, which he said requires a public comment period during a Council meeting, not before.

“The whole purpose of the push was to allow citizens to speak before the entire Council,” Williams said.

Law Director Cheri Cunningham said the proposed change is “completely consistent” with the ballot language.

Williams also pushed for a rationale concerning the change to the Committee on Committees. The response he received from Rules Committee Chairman Jeff Fusco (D-at large) is that members of every other committee are appointed by the president.

“That’s the way the Council functions today,” Fusco said.

After the committee meeting, Williams said the change is “directly aimed at me and Mr. Kilby,” referring to Ward 2 Councilman Bruce Kilby. Williams and Kilby are often outspoken against Mayor Don Plusquellic and initiatives brought before Council by the city administration.

Council President Marco Sommerville (D-Ward 3) chairs the Committee on Committees. Williams is the co-chairman, and Kilby and Council members Mike Freeman (D-Ward 9) and James Hurley (D-Ward 1) also serve on the committee.

In other business, Council approved the $193 million capital budget for 2012.

The budget is comprised of 36 percent local funding sources, 28 percent state funding, 24 percent state and federal loans, 7 percent federal funding, 4 percent private sources and 1 percent regional funding. The biggest chunk of the budget — more than $59 million — is allocated for public utilities, $21.7 million of which is for projects to address the federal mandate to remedy combined sewer overflows in the city.

Fusco, who chairs the Planning Committee, said that amount, which he characterized as “unfunded mandates,” is expected to increase to $48.6 million next year and $70.8 million in 2014.

He noted a reduction in federal Community Development Block Grant funding also affects this year’s budget.

Other large allocations include $46 million for the Bridgestone-Firestone and Goodyear projects and $33.1 million for transportation projects.

Projects of interest to the West Side Leader’s coverage area include:

• $2 million for citywide road resurfacing and $1.4 million for the citywide sidewalk program;

• $550,000 toward road reconstruction and realignment of the White Pond Drive/Copley Road intersection;

• $330,000 for signal upgrades on Copley Road between Collier Road and Glendale Avenue; and

• $50,000 for signalization upgrades for West Exchange Street between Delia Avenue and state Route 8 and $20,000 each for signalization upgrades on West Market Street between North Hawkins and Highland avenues and between Highland Avenue and Summit Street.

In addition, $31 million is budgeted for debt service and $1.26 million for administration.

Also at the meeting, the sale of 4 acres in West Akron to a Florida developer was approved. The property is on White Pond Drive across from FirstEnergy and will be developed into a medical office building. It is the first of the 70 acres available for office development on what is known as the Zazo property to be sold.

“We anticipate that the development of a medical complex on this property will provide at least 30-40 new health care jobs,” said Plusquellic in a press release. “And, we hope that this development will spur more office development within the new White Pond Office Park consistent with our original plan to add more job opportunities for our residents.”

Development Engineering Manager Brad Beckert said the developer is working with Akron General Medical Center on the new office building. The purchase price is $105,000 per acre, but the city is reducing the cost to account for the buyer’s extensive remediation efforts at the site, Beckert said. He said remediation will include cleanup of ground contamination as well as replacing 10 feet of unbuildable soil.

Due to the Presidents’ Day holiday, the next Council meeting will be Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers, 166 S. High St. Committee meetings are set to begin at 2 p.m. that afternoon, also in Council Chambers. There will be a public hearing on instituting a public comment period before Council meetings at 1 p.m.

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