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Akron’s lame-duck mayor is deaf to residents’ concerns

Akron has a lame-duck mayor assuming carte blanche to proceed with a development along White Pond Drive. This proposed development doesn’t pass the sniff test.

The proposed development by Triton Property Ventures would create nearly 250 units of housing, a mix of townhomes, apartments and houses, along with retail spaces that have been likened to Hudson’s First & Main shopping development.

Why that development? Why that location?

White Pond:Development plan drives wedge between residents, Akron city officials

There’s plenty of shopping, including a Whole Foods, Acme and several restaurants just a few blocks from the proposed site. The proposed development is also on a section of White Pond Drive that is the primary thoroughfare for West Akronites to get to Interstate 77. Yet a traffic study for the development has yet to be conducted.

According to nearby residents, the area is a wetlands with several endangered species.

Under James Hardy, the Horrigan administration’s former director of integrated economic development, Akron produced a State of the Canopy report in 2020.

The report identified the trees on the White Pond acres as essential to managing Akron’s stormwater, pollution and summer heat. Most, if not all, of the trees would be cleared away if the project is approved.

Meanwhile, for the better part of a quarter century, city leaders have said that the Innerbelt freeway will soon be decommissioned, opening up land ripe for mixed-use development like what Triton proposes for the White Pond green space.

Would it not make more sense to create a housing and shopping development on the land taken from predominantly Black residents by eminent domain half a century ago? Where a meaningless road cuts off downtown from the west side, development akin to Columbus’ Short North District could fill its place.

Furthermore, like many Rust Belt cities, Akron remains full of vacant lots and abandoned houses more than a decade after the Great Recession started with a housing bubble that blew up. Why not direct developers to fill these lots with affordable housing, which would also stabilize neighborhoods?

All of this certainly deserves a communitywide conversation, which makes the mayor’s resistance to doing so alarming. He has publicly suggested that the citizens opposed to the White Pond development are outsiders, which is outlandish and ironic given that the developers are themselves not local.

Dan Horrigan has refused to be interviewed by the press on the White Pond development, instead directing reporters to a letter his administration wrote to be sent to residents near the development.

This begs the question: If there’s nothing to hide, why is he not talking? The mayor’s obfuscation and dismissive attitude toward citizens’ concerns gives the impression he has something to hide, whether or not that’s the case.

City Council members Shammas Malik, who would like to replace Horrigan as mayor in 2024, and Russ Neal, who represents the ward where the development would occur, are both on record calling for the development process to slow down so the city can engage in discussions with citizens over their concerns.

How did Akron end up with a leader who ignores its citizens?

Horrigan replaced former Mayor Don Plusquellic, who’d held the position for nearly 30 years, in 2016 after winning a campaign in which few viable candidates ran. Horrigan had been the Summit County clerk of courts since 2007, an important administrative job ensuring the proper processing of the county courts’ paperwork. Before that he was Ward 1 City Council representative for seven years.

At first, Horrigan’s lack of experience seemed unimportant. Akronites were relieved for the end of Plusquellic’s arrogant attitude and self-created dramas. And Horrigan further allayed any concerns by filling his new administration with people with notable skills, ideas and energy.

However, after Horrigan’s re-election in 2019, the wheels soon came off his administration’s bus. The most impressive and effective members of his administration left one by one. This brain drain exposed Horrigan’s limited abilities in matters small and consequential.

Last summer, Akron became infamous in international news. Police Chief Steve Mylett’s and Mayor Horrigan’s responses to the deadly fight near the I Promise School and the police shooting of Jayland Walker too often were uninformed and dismissive, which only escalated citywide tensions.

By summer’s end, many saw Horrigan as unqualified to meet Akron’s needs. Thus, it came as little surprise when, on Oct. 4, Horrigan announced he would not seek reelection in 2023.

While Horrigan’s announcement caused many Akronites to sigh with relief, having an already weak mayor become a lame duck for the next 15 months is problematic. The passion Horrigan expressed for Akron when he first ran, and which seemed genuine, is no longer present.

A week after Horrigan announced he’d not seek reelection, Mylett reinstated the eight police officers who shot Walker to administrative duties, citing a staffing shortage.

In a city that just lived through a summer of protests, curfews and deep discord, the ensuing feud between the police department and leaders in the Black community has been public and contentious. Rather than intervening, Horrigan’s silence has been deafening.

Somehow Akron unwittingly replaced an arrogant, drama-creating mayor with a negligent mayor. Our city deserves better. Akron needs a competent, committed leader willing to address not only its problems but its potential with intelligence and passion. Instead, we have a placeholder mayor who refuses to engage with the citizens he was elected to serve.

This was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on Sunday, November 27, 2022.

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