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Akron City Council debates young Black candidate proposed for new police oversight board

Akron City Council
Akron City Council
Council President Margo Sommerville speaks about Imokhai Okolo during council's regular meeting on Monday, Feb. 13, 2023.

Akron City Council is divided on whether to approve one of the candidates nominated for the city’s new police oversight board.

Imokhai Okolo, a young, Black lawyer and social justice activist, is one of city council’s proposed six picks to the nine-member board. Okolo is a resident of Ward 3, one of the city’s most underserved areas, but some councilmembers brought forth concern that he initially mistakenly marked that he was a resident of Ward 5, which borders his ward.

Another concern was that he posted negative comments about the police on his social media in the past, said Councilman Brad McKitrick.

“He referred to the police as ‘pigs’ in a social media post from last summer, and my concern there is, can he remain objective in making decisions if he’s willing to put that type of a statement out on social media for people to see?” McKitrick said.

During Monday night’s council meeting, President Margo Sommerville defended Okolo, saying the post was made out of “fear, frustration and anger.”

“What concerns me the most … we seat a board, and we don’t have a young Black male like Imokhai sitting around that table. That’s the reason why we’re doing this. How can we leave out the very population that is most impacted?” Sommerville said.

McKitrick said he is planning to vote in opposition of council’s proposed appointments to the board. In addition to his concerns about Okolo, he said he wishes there were more representatives from the city’s east side. Councilmembers Jeff Fusco and Sharon Connor have also previously alluded to their opposition to the nominees.

Several residents criticized council’s debate over Okolo during the council meeting’s public comment period, including Judi Hill, President of the Akron chapter of the NAACP.

Hill was a staunch advocate for the charter amendment, Issue 10, which created the 9-member board.

“For a city that claims to be welcoming, I was so disheartened to read that we actually want to pull one person and attack them because they don’t represent what somebody thinks should be,” Hill said. “The pettiness and the idea that not moving this initiative forward? It bothers me. Let’s honor the people we serve, and honor the will of the people.”

Per the charter, council must vote on the nominees during its next meeting on Feb. 27.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.