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.


One thought on “Wanted: Real leaders in Akron

  1. I lived and was employed in Akron for a long time. The leaders from the 70’s are basically the same as they are today, the names and faces changed, but it’s the same BS. Bottom line for these people is that they need to protect their job and their turf. and to fill their own pockets. IMO, if you really want to improve Akron, political parties need to be flushed down the sewer and everything in Akron needs to be nonpartisan, with very strict term limits. There is WAY too much chronyism and nepotism in Akron, as well as Summit County. Only the politicians win and the public pays dearly for the games they play! End rant!

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s