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Akron's police oversight board remains unseated. What happens next?

Akron Council during recess
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Akron councilmembers discuss options for passing a slate of candidates for the civilian police oversight board during a recess during the meeting on Feb. 27, 2023.

Questions remain about what comes next after Akron City Council failed to seatthe city’s new citizen police oversight board by the deadline earlier this week.

“We should have got it done Monday night, but people wanted to play games,” said Ward 8 Councilman Shammas Malik. “We have to get this done as soon as possible. I think we’ll go ahead and figure it out, but it will continue to be messy, because some people do not like change.”

Four councilmembers voted against a slate of candidates, but most had apprehension about just one of them: Imokhai Okolo, a 27-year-old Black lawyer.

Council voted multiple times in the five-hour meeting that lasted until midnight, with four members voting “no” each time: Ward 6's Brad McKitrick, Ward 9's Mike Freeman, Ward 2's Phil Lombardo and Jeff Fusco, At Large.

The other eight members voted in favor and Councilman Donnie Kammer was absent from the meeting, resulting in an 8 to 4 vote that narrowly missed the supermajority of nine votes needed to pass.

At the next meeting, council may consider the same slate but swap out Okolo with someone else, Malik said.

“There have been some discussions around looking back on some of the other applicants, but honestly, I haven’t had a problem with a single applicant so far,” Malik said. “I think everyone who has applied could do a decent job.”

Councilman Fusco decided to vote no after hearing from police officers, the Fraternal Order of Police and some constituents who had concerns about Okolo’s allegedly negative views of police, he said. Okolo reportedly referred to police as “pigs” in a social media post.

“The way I’ve always operated is, whenever I make that educated based on what I’ve learned, then that’s my decision, and that’s it,” Fusco said. “Whenever I spoke to Imokhai, I said … I’d love to be able to support you, possibly, but I can’t do it today. I can’t do it Monday, because I’ve told people I’ve made commitments.”

Fusco understands the importance of having a young Black man on the board, he said, and hopes to consider other candidates.

“If we can find someone else, a younger voice from the Black community who is male, absolutely, I would be happy to entertain that,” Fusco said. “And again, I would do my research, have discussions and learn, and make an educated decision.”

Malik remains frustrated that Fusco and others refused to vote for Okolo and said Okolo is more than qualified.

“Do you know what that sounds like, when you say, like, ‘let’s just find a different young Black male’?” Malik said. “Again, it’s just playing games with this.”

Going forward, council may also consider voting on each of the nine proposed members individually to try to get some of the board seated while they consider a different candidate than Okolo, Fusco added.

Malik hopes they call a special meeting before the next council meeting on Monday so they can get the board seated as soon as possible.

The nine-member oversight board was created through Issue 10, a charter amendment voters approved in November.

The deadline to seat the board was Feb. 27, 90 days after election results were certified.

While there are no specific repercussions outlined in the charter language for council not confirming the board members on time, residents have already talked of suing the city.

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