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Focus on speeding, other issues at Akron Caucus

7/24/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

DOWNTOWN AKRON — On July 15, casually dressed members of Akron City Council gathered in Council Chambers with various members of the city administration for a caucus meeting covering a handful of discussion topics.

One major topic of discussion was the issue of speeding on residential streets, which many Council members have said is one of the most frequent complaints they receive from constituents.

Councilman Mike Freeman (D-Ward 9) requested time to talk about speed humps, which he clarified are different than speed bumps.

“Humps and bumps are two different things,” he said.

Speed humps are designed for residential streets and are more gradual and lower than a speed bump, which might be commonly located in a parking lot. Traffic Engineer Dave Gasper said speed humps are meant to slow traffic down and shouldn’t damage the underside of a car. He added there is striping added to alert motorists to an upcoming speed hump.

While Freeman, who has been nursing the idea since first experiencing speed humps in Toledo, said the city might be missing out on a good opportunity to install speed humps, he acknowledged there are several drawbacks.

Councilman Michael Williams (D-at large) said in his opinion, the biggest con is that speed humps would redirect traffic onto other streets that don’t have them.

Councilman Russel Neal Jr. (D-Ward 4) suggested experimenting with speed humps in parks and around schools and libraries on residential streets.

Council also talked with Akron Police Lt. Richard Decatur about the purchase of additional tools to address speeding. The city is purchasing eight pole-mounted speed-tracking devices, eight trailers and two “stealth units.” The 18 new speed machines will collect data on the speed at which traffic is moving and the time of day motorists are speeding. Some of the machines will flash the speed limit to notify motorists, but they will not issue citations. The data collected, however, is expected to be used to direct enforcement efforts.

In other business at the two-and-a-half-hour caucus meeting, Council discussed at length the status of litigation between the city and members of the Akron Fire Department. The discussion was at the request of Councilman Bob Hoch (D-Ward 6), who expressed his frustration that the litigation has been ongoing for nearly 10 years.

“An extended amount of time has elapsed, and the city needs to find a way to move forward,” he said. “The safety of our citizens is a concern.”

By way of background, Patricia Ambrose Rubright, the city’s interim personnel director and an assistant law director, explained the lawsuit originated from an exam given in 2004 for the promotion of fire department personnel to lieutenant or captain. Following the exam, several firefighters sued on the grounds of discrimination. The case is currently in federal court.

Finance Director Diane Miller-Dawson said if the city would be ordered to pay, the plan is to issue judgment bonds to cover the cost. Those bonds are related to property taxes, so, she said, losing the case would impact all property owners.

At one point during the discussion, Councilman Jeff Fusco (D-at large) moved to go into executive session, as the discussion was covering topics of both personnel and pending litigation, but the motion failed with only six votes for the motion. There were six votes against the motion and one abstention from a Council member who had joined the discussion late.

Council President Garry Moneypenny (D-Ward 7) noted that Russ Brode, the new president of the city’s firefighters union, was invited to the caucus but was unable to be there, and Fire Chief Rob Ross also was invited but chose not to attend due to the pending litigation.

Council also heard a presentation from Summit County Executive Russ Pry and Chief of Staff Jason Dodson about the county’s proposed sales tax increase. The issue is expected to be on the Nov. 4 General Election ballot.

The additional 0.25 percent sales tax would keep Summit County’s rate among the lowest in the state for operating county government and would generate $19 million to $20 million annually, according to Pry.

A portion of the additional revenue would go toward the building and operation of a county-owned arena in Downtown Akron. A large portion of the revenue would be directed to jail operations and other public safety initiatives and upgrades, according to Pry. The sales tax increase also would fund capital improvements and additional General Fund needs.

Also at the caucus meeting, Council received a brief update on the recent Safe Surrender program that took place at the House of the Lord June 25-28. Robert Davis, of the Ohio Attorney General’s office, said, “All in all, it was a very successful program.”

Safe Surrender extends favorable consideration to those who turn themselves in on felony and misdemeanor warrants.

Davis received applause from Council members for the program.

In addition, Council discussed city welcome packets and an app for new residents. WhiteSpace Creative Executive Vice President Robert Zajac presented to Council members the idea of assembling packets of information — including information sheets and refrigerator magnets with important phone numbers — in reusable bags. He also said there is the possibility of developing a neighborhood assistance app for use on mobile devices.

Fusco said some focus should be on immigrants and refugees coming into the city, as well as on keeping residents in Akron.

“We shouldn’t overthink this,” Williams said. “What’s been proposed is pretty basic. I think we should do it.”

The next Council meeting will be July 28 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the third floor of the Akron Municipal Building, 166 S. High St. Committee meetings are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. that afternoon, also in Council Chambers.

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