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Lieberth retirement prompts City Hall changes

12/6/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Merolla named chief of staff, other personnel reassignments announced

Rick Merolla
Photo courtesy of the city of Akron
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Upon the retirement of Dave Lieberth, Akron’s Public service director, Rick Merolla, has been named deputy mayor for administration and chief of staff, and current City Council President Marco Sommerville (D-Ward 3) will become the new planning director next year.

Merolla assumed the post formerly occupied by Lieberth Dec. 1.

“Rick has a breadth of knowledge not only with respect to city government, but of the city in general, and will do an excellent job as chief of staff,” said Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic in a press release.

Merolla previously worked for the city in the Planning Department, then as deputy director of finance, finance director and, most recently, service director for nearly six years. Merolla’s annual salary remains unchanged at $122,865.

Merolla said his appointment was one of many “dominoes” to fall into place following Lieberth’s retirement.

“He’s very thoughtful about who he puts in what positions,” Merolla said. “I was honored to be asked.”

Merolla said he looks forward to working with the mayor from a different side of the administration.

“In this role, I can get involved in just about anything,” he said, adding he loves serving the citizens of Akron and working with City Council and the mayor’s cabinet. “It’s exciting. It’s an honor to work for the mayor.”

In addition to naming Merolla his chief of staff, Plusquellic announced several personnel reassignments and new appointments.

Planning Director John Moore will move into Merolla’s vacated position as service director. He, too, will continue to earn $122,865 a year.

While Merolla will still be responsible for leading the city’s efforts in dealing with the issue of combined sewer overflow, Moore will take on the oversight of managing the Downtown Akron programs, including coordination of the city’s Downtown Operations Group, which deals with maintenance, security and programming.

At a press conference Dec. 3, Plusquellic announced the appointment of Sommerville as the new planning director, effective Jan. 1.

Plusquellic at the news conference expressed confidence in Sommerville to work at the neighborhood level to improve the city and help foster a healthy business environment.

“It’s very much street and neighborhood level,” the mayor said of the position, which includes oversight of zoning and the capital budget, as well as the Community Development Block Grant and federal housing programs.

Plusquellic noted Sommerville’s travel to China and Israel on economic development trips with the city. He added that he approached Sommerville about the position.

“He had never asked me for a job,” Plusquellic said, adding he has hired Council members into city positions only twice before.  

Sommerville, who has represented West Akron’s Ward 3 for more than 25 years and has served 14 as Council president, said he thanks Plusquellic for tapping him to continue to serve the community in this new role.

“I do look forward to this opportunity,” he said.

He said he’s looking forward to working with block clubs and ward Council representatives. He hopes to tour the individual wards to ensure they receive their needed improvements.

Sommerville said he anticipates resigning from Council by the end of the month. A new ward representative will be chosen via an application process and will need to run in next year’s municipal elections.

Mike Freeman (D-Ward 9) currently serves as Council’s vice president.

Sommerville also will earn $122,865 annually; his salary will rise 2 percent with other city employees in 2013. As City Council president, he currently earns $41,641 a year.

Sommerville said the day-to-day operations of Sommerville Funeral Home, which he owns, have recently fallen and will continue to fall to his daughter, who is also a licensed funeral director.

In other personnel movement, the management and scheduling for the city’s Lock 3 and Lock 4 entertainment venues will be handled by Tish Jernigan, who assisted in the design of the downtown venue in 2001 under Lieberth’s direction. Jernigan will become the acting manager of Downtown Operations.

“Watching Tish in action at any concert reveals her enthusiasm for this special place,” Plusquellic said in the press release. “Now I am asking her to accept more responsibility so that Lock 3 and Lock 4 continue to provide quality entertainment summer and winter to our residents.”

Her new salary will be set after a review by the Civil Service Commission.

Also, veteran Akron Police Department (APD) supervisor Richard Schmahl will become the city’s chief information officer. He retired Nov. 30 from his position as a sergeant in the APD to accept a new position as assistant to the mayor, chief information officer (CIO). For the past 11 years, he served as information technology supervisor in the APD. After six years as a detective, he became the first network administrator of the city’s safety forces computer network in 1994.

Schmahl’s annual salary will be $102,315, consistent with salaries of assistants to the mayor, according to the city news release.

His responsibilities will include overseeing the city’s information technology system, telephonic and radio systems, and the integration of all other city technology.

The position of CIO was a recommendation of a committee of business leaders appointed by the mayor to review the city’s technology needs, according to city officials.

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