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Akron Council discusses allegations against member


DOWNTOWN AKRON — During the Feb. 14 Akron City Council meeting, members discussed concerns about allegations made against Councilman Russ Neal (D-Ward 4) that he created a “hostile” work environment.
Council President Margo Sommerville (D-Ward 3) said a full investigation regarding the allegations was completed in October, although she didn’t elaborate on any findings made.
“I am so troubled by this conversation right now,” she said. “We do have a responsibility and we have a duty to make sure we create a safe working environment for our employees and staff here. When I mean safe, meaning that they have the right to come to us if they have a concern and we have a duty to investigate, and we plan to do that.”
Neal said he does not know who the six women are who made allegations of him creating a hostile work environment.
“I still don’t know what the allegations are,” he said. “I still don’t know who my accusers are.”
He added he does have an idea of who one of accusers is.
Neal raised concerns that someone in the city administration or on Council aired this investigation in public before it came to City Council. He said he has seen some “dirty things” while on Council, but this is “one of the lowest.”
“I really thought we were better than this,” Neal said.
Councilwoman Tara Mosley (D-Ward 5) also raised concerns about information from the investigation appearing in the Akron Beacon Journal before members of Council found out about it.
“It is so disappointing when we pick up papers and the Beacon knows more than the 13 of us,” Mosley said. “This shouldn’t have ever made it to the paper without us having a conversation about it first.”
She asked if Neal was notified of the investigation before the article was printed.
Mosley added she hopes as Council moves through the process that anyone with allegations against Neal is not part of the investigative leadership. She added Council has not met in person since July and she is trying to figure out how a hostile environment would have been created.
Neal said he wants members of Council to get all the information about the allegations and he wants to address the allegations online for the public to see. He said everything he is being accused of had to have occurred through Zoom meetings, as that is the only way he has met with city staff.
“I have never harassed a woman,” Neal said.
Sommerville said Neal would receive all the information he needs.
“We conducted that investigation privately and confidentially to protect all parties and that is how we wanted it to remain,” she said. “How it got leaked, I don’t know. I am so sorry that it did.”
Councilwoman Linda Omobien (D-at large) asked what happens when the mayor’s staff is disrespectful to Council and how that is addressed. She added Council members need to revisit its rules to make sure they are being carried out.
Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan said the city has an obligation to investigate all city employee complaints.
“And to suggest I would co-opt or somehow force one, two, four, six people into testifying about the same thing, that is absolutely ludicrous,” Horrigan said. “We may disagree on a ton of things, but to sit there and to say that we would do this for some kind of political gain is absolutely ludicrous and you know that.”
Horrigan said he heard a lot of things during the meeting that are “completely unfactual.”
“The thought that six people would conspire together, that just doesn’t seem likely,” Councilman Mike Freeman (D-Ward 10) said.
Freeman said Neal was invited Monday afternoon to meet with him, Sommerville and Council Vice President Jeff Fusco (D-at large), but Neal declined to attend the meeting.
Neal said he has never had a conversation with Sommerville, Fusco or Freeman regarding the allegations and added he scheduled that meeting and then canceled it because of a lie stating that he had already met with Council leadership.
“None of us have met regarding this issue,” Neal said. “I do not have confidence in meeting with leadership.”
In other business, Council approved:
• a capital budget of $353 million, which includes federal, state, regional, local and private revenue;
• a conditional-use permit to establish a Type A daycare home at 986 Raymond St.;
• a contract with Akron Public Schools for the Community Learning Centers’ Akron After School Program to provide learning enrichment activities;
• a contract with the Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc. to pay an operating subsidy for the convention bureau to support the services and offerings of the convention bureau to the residents and visitors of the Greater Akron area;
• accepting grant funding from the Ohio & Erie Canalway for the Downtown Wayfinding Project;
• the appointment of Councilman Shammas Malik (D-Ward 8) to the Summit-Akron Solid Waste Management Authority Board (Reworks), with Dan Dempsey as his alternate, for a for a term ending Feb. 28, 2025; and
• confirming the appointment of Kelly Morelock to the City of Akron Commission on Aging for a three-year term.
Council also agreed to move the following legislation to the consent agenda, which is a list of routine legislation that does not require discussion and can be acted on at one time under a single motion:
√ a lease agreement with Level 3 Communications LLC for approximately 1,628 square feet of city-owned land at 450/451 Hickory St.; and
√ the purchase of five properties on Copley Road in furtherance of the city’s Great Streets Akron Initiative.
Council defeated a resolution urging the city to create a neighborhood revitalization program that would provide housing incentives to recent graduates of local colleges and universities. Mosley, Neal and Omobien were the only members to vote in favor of the resolution.
Akron City Council will next meet Feb. 28, one week later than usual due to Presidents’ Day, for committee meetings beginning at 1 p.m. and a regular meeting at 7 p.m., with both conducted via the Zoom videoconference application. The public can view the meetings on Council’s YouTube page. For a link, visit www.akroncitycouncil.org.

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