Highland Square Gets a New Champion on Akron City Council
When Akron City Councilman Rich Swirsky died in late May it left a void in the community and an empty seat on council. Swirsky’s legacy of service to the Highland Square area inspired 17 people to apply to serve out his term.
On June 21, city council unanimously chose attorney Nancy Holland, who has served on the city’s civil rights commission and on the county’s children’s services board. She calls herself a “back of the house” person who decided now is the time to step to the front. "You know what sort of carried the day?" she said in an interview a few days after her election. "It was that I had the support of friends and neighbors who...urged me to throw my hat in the ring and felt that I would represent the interests of the area well, and I also felt the call that now is the right time."
The first few days on the job had her getting a feel for what it will be like to serve on council. "A lot of phone calls, lots of zoom conferences, and maybe my favorite part so far is the opportunity to get out there and meet with people face to face," she said.
"I imagine I'm not alone in that sense of pure joy that we have, you know, really begun to truly emerge from the pandemic experience of being really separate." She has enjoyed being able to visit with merchants in the Highland Square business district and talk to community members. "Sort of roll up my sleeves and take on some of the bigger issues, things like public safety."
Akron is in the process of selecting the city's next police chief. Four candidates participated in a community town hall June 17. One candidate, Albany, NY police chief Eric Hawkins, subsequently withdrew from consideration.
Holland answered questions about public safety, her priorities and trying to fill Swirsky's shoes.
Q: Is that one of the issues that drove you to make the move now--public safety?
A: Certainly, you know, I feel that public safety is probably on the minds and in the hearts of everyone in every city in America.
We're not a a small city, we are significant in size and budget and operations and in diversity. And what unites I think every Akronite and certainly every American right now is that sense of you know, putting public safety, you know prominently up front, but you know close behind that are issues of economic developments and growth. You know getting back into that mode of moving forward, rebuilding community relations, just getting back to maybe not just where we were pre-COVID, but to an even better place, a place of you know opportunity and reconnection.
Q: Civil rights have been a passion of yours in your career and in your public service too. You served on the Akron Civil Rights Commission. How will that inform your service on city council?
A: Civil rights has been my passion since law school. This has been something that I've been working on in my private law practice and in the service of both state and federal government. For you know, three decades. This informs everything I do, so in a sense, nothing about me will change.
"I'm interested in examining every facet of city operations for giving all people in Akron and even beyond an equal shot at success and prosperity."
I really love the diversity of the City of Akron. I really, really celebrate particularly my neighborhood. The different kinds of people who live here. The different interests, the different cultural and other identities that are represented here. So I'm excited about representing a ward that is truly, truly diverse, but also promoting the idea that this kind of celebration of all of our different flavors and backgrounds and interests is exactly right for a city like Akron at this time in this place. So you can expect from me a continuing interest and focus on leveling the playing field for all people.
I'm interested in examining every facet of city operations for giving all people in Akron and even beyond an equal shot at success and prosperity.
Q: Obviously you knew Rich Swirsky. How do you expect what you knew of him to play into how you serve? Or will it?
A: I feel that we had a really nice mutual respect. I worked with Rich on some issues. He was very much a supporter and a participant in all the work that I've done over the years in community organizing and operating volunteer voter protection issues.
It would be impossible to truly fill Rich’s shoes. I think that’s just not reality. Rich was a really special man who had a particular way with people and situations and problems. I do feel that I will bring you know some congruence or some similar skills to the table, but you know I bring some of my own as well.
My hope is that I will make Rich proud, that I will serve out some of his goals and that it will be a transition that my neighbors and friends will be comfortable with and I intend to work very hard to make that happen.
According, to the city charter, council members cannot serve on public boards, so Holland has to step down from the Summit County Children’s Services Board, on which she has served for 11 years, and the Akron Civil Rights Commission. She will continue to serve on Summit County’s task force working to address racism as a public health crisis.
Holland is also a yoga instructor and meditation practitioner, which she plans to continue and says she might even incorporate into some of her ward meetings.