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Council ends year with oath, controversy

12/19/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Akron City Council also OKs city guarantee of UPA loan, expresses appreciation for Ken Jones

During the Dec. 16 Akron City Council meeting, 2014-15 Akron City Council members were sworn in by Summit County Probate Court Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer.
Rich Swirsky, newly elected to Ward 1, was pinned by his wife, Rebecca Jenkins.
Councilwoman Marilyn Keith (D-Ward 8) was pinned by her husband, Council Clerk and former Ward 8 Councilman Bob Keith.
Councilman Russel Neal Jr. (D-Ward 4) was “pinned” by his wife, Yolanda Neal, and his mother, Carolyn Neal.
Photos: Stephanie Kist
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Akron City Council members for the 2014-15 term took the oath of office Dec. 16 at the final regular meeting of 2013.

The 13 Council members, all Democrats, were sworn in by Summit County Probate Court Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer in front of a standing-room only crowd of family, friends and supporters. Newly elected Council members are Rich Swirsky — who will serve the newly redrawn Ward 1, which includes all of Highland Square — and Tara Mosley-Samples, who will serve Ward 5.

Council President Garry Moneypenny (D-Ward 10) asked each Council member to deliver brief comments, which were followed by a family member coming forward to attach a pin depicting the city seal to the Council member’s lapel. Moneypenny said he drew the “pinning” from his background in law enforcement, when a family member would pin a badge onto a newly sworn-in officer’s uniform.

In turns humorous and emotional, Council members thanked their family members, constituents, supporters and campaign workers and pledged to serve the residents of Akron with hard work and integrity.

Mayor Don Plusquellic likewise said he was eager to work with those members who exhibited honesty and integrity and would be “working all for the betterment of the citizens of this city.”

Moneypenny was re-elected Council president with 10 affirmative votes. Choosing not to vote in the ballot election were Council members Michael Williams (D-at large), Linda Omobien (D-at large) and Mosely-Samples. Councilman Mike Freeman (D-Ward 9) was elected vice president, and Councilwoman Margo Sommerville (D-Ward 3) was elected president pro-tem. They each received nine affirmative votes, with Williams, Omobien, Mosley-Samples and Russel Neal Jr. (D-Ward 4) not voting.

Council’s Committee on Committees also made committee assignments, but the process was not without its snags. The committee, which is comprised of Moneypenny and the four most senior Council members — Williams, Freeman, Jim Hurley (D-Ward 2) and Jeff Fusco (D-at large) — met during a recess of the organizational meeting and reviewed Moneypenny’s committee assignments. Williams lodged his strong objection to Omobien being removed as chair of the Economic Development and Job Creation Committee and reassigned as chair of the Health and Social Service Committee.

“She has not been respected,” Williams said. “There’s no reason to remove her from that chair.”

Moneypenny acknowledged Omobien was upset with his choice but said her background in the mental health area made her better suited for Health and Social Service. He also said Omobien and the city administration do not have a comfortable working relationship.

Both committees rarely meet because legislation is seldom assigned to them. Omobien has publicly stated she is upset the Economic Development Committee hardly ever has legislation before it.

Williams said it is the Council president’s responsibility to assign legislation to committees. Moneypenny said he examines each piece of legislation before deciding for which committee it is best suited.

Upon returning to regular session, Williams restated his objection. Omobien did not address her committee assignments but voiced her own objection that Williams, the most senior member on Council and the top vote-getter in the city in recent elections, is not given the opportunity to chair a committee.

“It baffles me, and it baffles many of the citizens of Akron,” she said.

Committees were assigned as follows:

  • Committee on Committees: Moneypenny (chair), Williams, Freeman (vice chair), Hurley and Fusco;
  • Rules: Moneypenny (chair), Freeman (vice chair), Williams, Hurley and Marilyn Keith (D-Ward 8);
  • Budget and Finance: Freeman (chair), Hurley (vice chair), Robert Hoch (D-Ward 6), Omobien and Margo Sommerville (D-Ward 3);
  • Planning: Fusco (chair), Keith (vice chair), Freeman, Omobien and Neal;
  • Public Service: Hurley (chair), Williams (vice chair), Hoch, Neal and Freeman;
  • Public Utilities: Hoch (chair), Hurley (vice chair), Williams, Donnie Kammer (D-Ward 7) and Sommerville;
  • Public Safety: Kammer (chair), Sommerville (vice chair), Neal, Fusco and Hoch;
  • Parks and Recreation: Neal (chair), Keith (vice chair), Kammer, Sommerville and Mosley-Samples;
  • Housing: Keith (chair), Omobien (vice chair), Mosley-Samples, Swirsky and Kammer;
  • Health and Social Service: Omobien (chair), Neal (vice chair), Kammer, Swirsky and Mosley-Samples; and
  • Economic Development and Job Creation: Sommerville (chair), Keith (vice chair), Kammer, Hoch and Swirsky.

Moneypenny pleaded with his fellow Council members to lay aside their bruised egos, which he said “pale in contrast” to the needs and issues within the community, and dig into the work of the city.

In legislative action at Council’s regular meeting, which preceded the organizational meeting and swearing-in, Council bid farewell to Ward 5 Councilman Kenneth Jones, who fell in the Democratic primary to Mosely-Samples in September. Council unanimously approved a resolution expressing its appreciation for Jones and his service to the city. He originally was appointed Ward 5 Councilman in March 2008 and was re-elected to two more terms.

Several Council members and city officials spoke individually, praising Jones’ loyalty, diligence, involvement in the community, dedication to family and kindness.

“I only wish we had more like you, Ken,” Plusquellic said.

Wiping away tears, Jones acknowledged his fellow Council members, city officials and employees, and his wife and son, and said his faith was of utmost importance in his doing the job.

“I just really, truly appreciate everybody that’s in this chamber,” he said. “God bless you. God bless everybody here.”

In his last act as Councilman, Jones, who chaired the Budget and Finance Committee, recommended for approval legislation that authorizes the city to guarantee a $600,000 loan from Valley Savings Bank to the University Park Alliance (UPA).

Jones said the “big, huge issue” was “near and dear” to him and Ward 5, which includes much of Downtown Akron and The University of Akron (UA).

Speaking to the committee, Plusquellic said he believes the loan guarantee will begin the process of helping the troubled UPA, which was tasked with redeveloping the blighted area around UA, to gain solid ground.

“I believe that this is the right first step,” he said.

In spite of missteps and poor judgment on the part of the former executive director of the UPA, Plusquellic said, there has been tremendous progress made in the Exchange Street area adjacent to UA.

Council also approved: an ordinance authorizing a contract for private redevelopment with Rubber City Arches Main and Broadway LLC, which is based on projected value of upward of $70,000 per acre for 9 acres near the planned reconfigured interstate exchange at South Broadway Street; and a resolution calling for the unification of Ireland in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

Akron City Council will break for the holidays and next meet Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the third floor of the Akron Municipal Building, 166 S. High St. in Downtown Akron.

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