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Proposed law against texting while driving raises ire

1/31/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

As Akron City Council continued to table an ordinance making it a primary offense to text while driving Jan. 28, numerous community members stepped forward to voice their support or opposition for the proposed new law.

The ordinance, introduced at the Jan. 14 meeting, is sponsored by Council members Michael Williams (D-at large) and Donnie Kammer (D-Ward 7).

At the afternoon Public Safety Committee meeting, Akron police officer Alan Jones spoke in support of the ordinance, at Williams’ request.

Jones said his daughter died nearly two years ago as a result of a one-car accident.

“It is my firm belief that she had taken her eyes off the road for a minute because she was doing something on her telephone,” he said.

Expressing support for the legislation, he said, “If it could just save one car, one individual, it’s well worth it.”

However, there were voices that opposed making it a primary offense to send or read text messages while driving. Several people indicated it had the potential to lead police officers to act on their biases.

The Rev. Gregory Harrison, of Antioch Baptist Church, said the law would give police officers too much leeway in determining who to stop for committing a violation.

“It’s too vague,” he said. “It’s too broad.”

He called on the city to use the proposal of the legislation as an opportunity to work together with the police and community members to address the issue.

“I think this will have a negative impact in the minority community,” he said.

Darian Johnson, who said he represents the Akron chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in its opposition to the law, shared similar concerns, saying there is a lot of hostility in the minority community toward the proposed ban.

“We do not need legislation that’s going to make young people act more hostile … toward cops,” he said.

Later, at the regular Council meeting, the Rev. Melford Elliott, of the Greater Bethel Baptist Church, vowed to discredit the “frivolous” legislation.

“I think we need to have a community dialogue on that,” added community member Janice Davis, who said it would give police another reason to pull over black drivers.

Councilman Ken Jones (D-Ward 5) gave credit to Williams and Kammer for proposing the legislation but said he is not in favor of making it a primary offense. He said those who text while driving don’t intend to hurt anybody as a result.

Kammer made a statement, saying he was “saddened and offended” the legislation sparked a racial outcry. He said the proposed law was “written to protect our residents regardless of their race.”

In other business, several people who spoke during the meeting’s public comment period voiced support for Lawrence Modic, who recently purchased a home near Summit Lake that the city plans to demolish due to housing violations originating several years ago. Attorney Warner Mendenhall has filed a lawsuit against the city in an attempt to block the action against the home. He said the city is not following its own regulations and that Modic, a veteran, deserves dignity and grace.

In a statement at the conclusion of the meeting, Mayor Don Plusquellic said the house has been a neighborhood issue for numerous years, and he questioned the intentions of Mendenhall to make the city look like a “bad guy.”

“When there’s an abandoned house in the neighborhood, it affects everyone in that neighborhood,” Plusquellic said. “Sometimes we have to draw the line, because that’s the law we have agreed to abide by.”

The situation has recently been the subject of media reports, which indicate Modic made threats against anyone who would demolish the house.

In related news, Council is considering legislation that would require homeowners to disclose notice of violations to potential buyers. More discussion of that ordinance, which was introduced late on Monday, is expected at the next Housing Committee and Council meetings.

In legislative action, Council approved an ordinance accepting a $11,414 grant for the Juvenile Diversion Program, which targets first-time, nonviolent juvenile offenders, and an ordinance authorizing $16,291 to help United Disability Services launch its REACH (Recreation, Education, Arts, Community, Health) program. The funding represents a portion of handicapped parking fines collected in the city.

Council also held a public hearing on the 2013 capital budget, which is currently proposed at $218 million. No one spoke at the public hearing. Council will vote on the proposed budget in the near future.

Some highlights of the budget that pertain to the western portion of the city include:

• $1.4 million to reconstruct Kingswood, Rocky Hollow and Poulsen drives;

• $2.12 million to resurface Copley Road from Storer Avenue to the corporation line;

• $36.85 million for combined sewer overflow projects;

• $4.63 million for housing and community services;

• $45.56 million for economic development, including $1.33 million for road projects supporting the Bridgestone-Firestone development, $32.1 million for the Goodyear-Eastgate development, $3.8 million for the Smith/Ghent roads detention pond and $1.5 million to support the construction of a grocery store in Highland Square; and

• $35 million for debt service.

The next Council meeting will take place Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the third floor of the Akron Municipal Building, 166 S. High St. in Downtown Akron. Committee meetings are set to begin at 2 p.m. that afternoon, also in Council Chambers.

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