Wanted: Real leaders in Akron

Both generational Akronites and those recently transplanted here often tout our city’s advantages: great parks, a phenomenal housing stock that’s affordable, arts and culture institution and venues, and a sizable university with many highly rated programs. The weather is neither too hot, nor too cold. And the people are friendly.

Other mid-sized cities located outside the sunbelt have become desirable post-industrial places, hotspots even. Consider Overlook Park, Kansas; Fort Collins, Colorado; Boise, Idaho; Omaha, Nebraska; Madison, Wisconsin and more. But few in this list have the combined geography, climate and arts, educational and cultural institutions Akron enjoys.

Unlike those cities, however, Akron is like a promising runner stuck at the starting block. Without invested, visionary leaders, the city’s potential remains unharnessed and less able to attract people and businesses that would make our community thrive. 

Part of the problem is the three-decades-long stranglehold one man had on the top leadership position. Don Plusquellic was so secure in his position as mayor of Akron that when he abruptly announced his retirement in 2015, few, if any, leaders had been cultivated to fill his shoes. 

Similarly, Akron’s city council has far too many representatives who have been there for far too long and become ossified to change. Motivated primarily to protect their positions rather than develop a bold, long-term vision of the city, council as a whole does not have what Akron needs.

How long have Akron’s elected officials touted the decommissioning of the Innerbelt to make way for vibrant development along the city’s western flank? A quarter of a century. And yet the road to nowhere remains. It is a concrete barrier between downtown and the neighborhoods brimming with possibilities on the other side.

Yes, some interesting work is happening downtown, particularly on Main Street. But it started before the COVID pandemic and has progressed at a snail’s pace, forcing businesses to close and increasing vacancy rates — stifling, rather than invigorating, downtown. Just who exactly benefits from this never-ending project?

Meanwhile over at Akron Public Schools, where I tutor elementary students, we have a school board with too many members who do not spend real time in the buildings and an administration that, until a teachers strike became imminent, seemed deaf to the concerns of faculty, staff, students and parents. 

Three of my children have graduated from Akron Public Schools and I have two more whom I hope will. But I am far from alone in stating I won’t keep my kids in the district if substantive improvements do not happen in our schools beginning now.

A strong public school system is an essential component of a thriving city. Without it, middle-class families leave for better school districts. Without middle-class families, cities become donuts with big holes. Neighborhoods decline, tax revenues decline, the quality of city parks decline, businesses relocate.

A quality workforce is one of the top things businesses look for when considering locating in a community and one of the surest ways to grow a solid workforce is through education.

Before becoming Akron’s chief of police in August of 2021, Steve Mylett‘s last job was chief of police for Bellevue, Washington, a well-to-do, mid-sized city in the same county as Seattle. Bellevue has a median income near $115,000 and its population is 63% white and 2% Black. 

Less than a year into his job, it was clear that Mylett’s previous experience and acumen did not prepare him to run a police department in a city with far fewer resources and far greater diversity than the one he’d left. 

It is impossible to avoid a comparison between the Memphis police chief’s response to the recent police killing of an unarmed Black man there with Mylett’s response to the police killing of Jayland Walker here seven months ago.

Within days after an unarmed man in Memphis was beaten to death by police after a traffic stop, the names of five of the officers involved were made public. In a few short weeks, those five officers were fired from the department and prosecutors filed murder charges.

Meanwhile, more than seven months after eight police officers shot Walker 46 times, also an unarmed Black man stopped initially for a traffic violation, we still do not know the names of those officers. The officers not only were not fired, they were returned to administrative duties little more than four months after the killing.

Lawsuit filed:Beacon Journal asks Ohio Supreme Court to order release of Akron police records

Akron’s police department owes Akron’s citizens transparency, not obfuscation; accountability, not entrenchment. Without transparency and accountability, neither of which anyone expects from Mylett, our community has a festering wound that will not heal.

Akron has so much promise, but a fish rots from the head down. Our city will not sprint from the starting block and head toward a better future unless we, its citizens, sweep out ineffectual leaders and support the election (or hiring) of people with innovative thinking, energy and a commitment to all of Akron’s citizens.

The primary for the mayor’s race is May 2 and incumbent Dan Horrigan is not running. As many believe the Democratic winner will be our de facto next mayor, it’s important not to forgot this spring’s election. 

Akron primary May 2:These eight people want to be the next mayor of Akron

This fall, three school board members will be up for re-election. Look closely at their actual involvement in our city’s schools and decide at the polls if they should keep their positions.

Fall is also when Akron’s citizens choose their city council representatives. As three incumbents are vacating their seats, we will certainly have three new representatives. Hopefully there will be more than those three. Several new voices, many from younger generations, are clambering to replace current incumbents. Listen to what they have to say.

Rise up, Akron. We, her citizens, are her lifeblood. It’s time to clear out the rot and race toward the future we know is possible.

This column was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on Sunday, February 12, 2023.


New puppy is a fluffy bundle of joy and mischief

For 40 years I have lived with German shepherds and Shetland sheepdogs, unfussy working breeds. Usually I’ve had one of each, the protective temperament of the German shepherds complemented by the gladly obedient Shelties.  

I train my dogs to be well behaved, not to do tricks. They follow me wherever I go, inside and out, and ride in the car with me most days, weather permitting. My current Sheltie, the fourth I’ve owned, often keeps my feet warm when I write. 

Perhaps I’m a bit boring having the same type of dogs for four decades, but the intelligence and steady personalities of German shepherds and Shelties suit me and my practical nature. 

Recently I discovered that old dog owners can learn new things.  

In mid-December, someone gave me a delightful present: a 12-week-old Yorkipoo. Half Yorkshire terrier and half miniature poodle, this 5-pound creature has captured the  adoration of my family like Harry Styles in a stadium full of Gen Zers. 

The names we’ve considered for our new boy include Steve, Roger, Frankie, Elroy, Odin. Someone suggested Hannibal and was promptly voted off the naming committee.  

I’ve taken to calling him Henry, which in French sounds a bit like “ornery,” an apt description for most puppies. Meanwhile, my 12-year-old son, Leif, insists upon calling him Ozzie. 

When waiting for him to do his business in the January cold, I summon my best Eliza Doolittle and call out, ” ‘enry ‘iggins, go pee already!” Leif, on the other hand, hollers “Ozzieozzieozzie” when he wants the puppy to come. My 10-year-old daughter goes with the flow, calling him Henry when she’s near me and Ozzie around her brother. 

It seems people have strong opinions about the names Henry and Ozzie. My neighbors say Ozzie will not do as it reminds them of Ozzy Osbourne. The groomer (who, after 23 years, has known all but my first two dogs) thinks Ozzie is an adorable name, which is what she writes on his appointment card. 

After weeks of the Henry-Ozzie debate, we’ve decided he can have two names. Most pets have endearing nicknames and still manage to come when called. 

Angus, my 6-year-old Sheltie, mostly ignores the puppy. That is, until I throw a toy. Angus races to the toy and makes it abundantly clear that only he may pick it up. Once he does, Henry barks at Angus, who soon drops the toy. Henry then grabs it and returns to me for another round of fun. 

Unlike Angus, my German shepherd, Otto, is as smitten with the wee canine as we are. During more than one virtual meeting I’ve had to explain that the loud moans of pain are those of my 90-pound dog being tormented by a puppy so small that Otto could eat him in two bites but chooses not to.  

On our daily 2-mile walks, Otto glides with long-legged strides that make his speed look effortless. Right behind him, Henry’s short legs pump up and down like mini pistons as he cartoonishly tries to keep up. 

Little Henry finds a big friend in Otto.
Little Henry finds a big friend in Otto.

My eldest son, Claude, was home and worked remotely for two weeks over the holidays. Even more practical than me, we often refer to him as the family monk. So I was shocked (and delighted) when I found him regularly putting Henry on his chest under his sweater where the puppy would sleep while Claude sat in on conference calls and meetings. 

Just before Christmas, Claude and I found $5 dog sweaters at Aldi’s. Later that night, he brought Henry to me all decked out in a sweater with “Fa-la-la-la-la” written on the back. 

“I don’t know what’s going on,” said Claude, “but I want to buy this puppy more outfits and dress him up.” 

We soon did just that.  

I’ve always thought of my Shelties as having big-dog personalities in smaller-sized bodies. I had no idea a far smaller dog could also come equipped with outsized personality and intelligence. 

At Henry’s first appointment, my longtime vet and friend Julie Brown-Herold was not surprised by our latest addition to the family. Instead of asking why I decided to adopt my first smidge of a dog, she told me how wonderful all these poodle mixes are.  

“When our golden retriever died,” she said, “I didn’t want another big dog. Our kids are grown, we’re getting older, so we got a little poodle mix, too.” 

Up until a month ago, I would never have dreamed of clearing out a dresser drawer for dog clothing. But that’s just what I did earlier this week. I also didn’t foresee buying a sling to carry my puppy around like I used to carry my human babies.  

While my dogs now come in large, medium and extra small, each holds an equal portion of our hearts. 

This was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on Sunday, January 22, 2023.