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Akron City Council members clash over support for civilian police oversight charter amendment

Council Vice President Jeff Fusco introduced a resolution opposing Issue 10, the charter amendment that would create a civilian police oversight board in Akron. Council is taking time on the resolution and will likely vote on it in the coming weeks.
Akron City Council
Council Vice President Jeff Fusco introduced a resolution opposing Issue 10, the charter amendment that would create a civilian police oversight board in Akron. Council is taking time on the resolution and will likely vote on it in the coming weeks.

A heated exchange between members of Akron City Council Monday exposed vast differences on Issue 10, the November ballot measure that would create a new civilian police oversight board codified in the city charter.

Council Vice President Jeff Fusco introduced a resolution during a committee meetingMonday opposing the ballot measure. The resolution called the proposal “flawed” and “misleading.”

Fusco thinks any board created by the ballot issue would be challenged by the police union, and litigation would waste taxpayer money.

“This is going to put Akron in harm’s way, our budget in harm’s way,” Fusco said in the committee meeting. “We’ve had court litigation that lasted years and years and years, and cost taxpayers hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars could have went to better policing.”

Fusco has been a vocal critic of Issue 10 since it was put on the ballot.

Council was required by law to put the amendment before voters because at least 3,315 registered Akron voters signed a petition, which eclipsed the threshold of valid signatures needed. Overall, more than 7,000 people signed the petition.

On the day petitions were turned in, Mayor Dan Horrigan announced he would also propose a civilian oversight board – but his version was an ordinance, which would not codify the board in the city’s charter like Issue 10.

Council approved the Horrigan-proposed board in September and applications are already being accepted.

Fusco prefers that review board to the one on the ballot because it can be tweaked by future legislation, with the goal of codifying it in the charter next year, he said.

Several council members - including At-Large Councilwoman Linda Omobien, Ward 8 Councilman Shammas Malik, Ward 5 Councilwoman Tara Mosley and Ward 7 Councilman Donnie Kammer - spoke out against Fusco’s proposal.

Passing the resolution would be “disingenuous” to those who signed the petitions, Omobien said.

“They go ahead and do the hard work of getting the signatures, getting it on the ballot, and we don’t have the decency to allow that process to finalize?” she said. “I am very troubled and disturbed by this [resolution] coming in 15 days before the election … This is absolutely unacceptable and wrong.”

The police union takes issue with the provision in the ballot version that the oversight board could conduct its own “investigations,” Fusco said.

Malik, who worked on Issue 10 and has advocated for its passage, said there is a provision in the amendment that states it must be interpreted within the terms of the city’s collective bargaining agreement.

"Investigations" could mean conducting research into the department’s policies, Malik said.

“I think that wouldn’t violate the collective bargaining agreement. Could it mean that we have a whole alternate disciplinary investigation system? No, and no one’s saying that it would,” Malik said.

Council will have to enact an ordinance fleshing out some logistics of the review board if it passes, Malik added.

That ordinance could be tweaked by future legislation, rather than changing the charter again, he said.

Any language explicitly stated in Issue 10, though, could only be changed by a new charter amendment.

“I believe that if this is passed, and we have changes, this is all going to be so murky and gray. It’s not black and white,” Fusco said. “We’re told that we can mold it and frame it ourselves, but there’s a lot going on here in Issue 10, and we can’t really mold a whole lot of it.”

Fusco said he felt “attacked” by council members who spoke out against the resolution.

“I’ve been attacked by a few of you, and the thing of it is, is I said, ‘let’s take time.’ I’m not asking for a vote today, and I think I said that,” he said.

The discussion became even more heated when citizens who were in attendance asked to speak, and Fusco denied it.

In order to speak, citizens must fill out a public comment form ahead of time, and those who requested time to speak did not arrive until just before the meeting, Fusco said.

Mosley and Kammer said council members did not have enough time to review the legislation because Fusco turned it in around 12:30 p.m. on Monday. Council members are supposed to file new legislation by noon the Friday before council meets, Mosley said.

After deliberating with Councilman Mike Freeman, the rules committee chairman, a member of the city’s law department – and hearing opposition from several council members – Fusco invited the citizens to speak.

All three of them, Rev. Dr. Joyce Penfield, Rev. Nanette Pitt and Dee McCall, spoke out against the resolution.

Pitt and Penfield, along with Malik and Omobien, are listed on the charter amendment as committee members who can speak on the behalf of petitioners.

Pitt said the amendment was written with careful consideration of the law, and a leading Ohio law firm that specializes in political law was consulted.

“To elevate the claim that this is flawed legislation that will lead to litigation and a waste of taxpayers’ dollars is using your power as a councilmember to elevate a claim to fact. It is not a good approach,” she said. “I plead with you today, and others who are aligned with this particular resolution, to withdraw it.”

Omobien and Mosley clarified that they did not intend for their comments to come across as personal attacks toward Fusco, but that they were passionate about their opposition of the resolution.

Council voted to take time to consider the resolution and will likely vote on it in the coming weeks.

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