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Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan proposes civilian review board, calls charter amendment "problematic"

Akron City Council
Mayor Dan Horrigan, alongside staff members from his office and the city's law department, discusses his proposal for a civilian police oversight board to Akron City Council on Sept. 12, 2022.

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan has officially proposed an ordinance that would create a civilian police review board – a different proposal than the one voters will get to decide on in the November election.

The legislation would create an 11-member board that would review complaints against Akron Police and issue recommendations about department procedures and policies, among other responsibilities. It would also create an Office of Inspector General, a police auditor role.

The ordinance includes the intent to seek a charter amendment codifying the oversight board next year, Horrigan said in a committee meeting Monday afternoon.

“Our goal was to always get this up and running by this year, 2022, kind of work out some of the kinks, get the board seated, get the inspector general hired … and then take this to the ballot initiative in November 2023,” Horrigan said.

Horrigan acknowledged that there is a similar proposal already going before voters in the upcoming election.

Community activists worked to gather thousands of signatures on a charter amendment that would create an eight-member board. Key differences include the number of board members, who appoints them (the citizen-led charter amendment proposes that council has the majority of say in appointments, rather than the mayor), and the recommended training for the board, as the mayor’s proposal recommends the members participate in at least 40 hours of police ride-alongs.

While neither board could conduct internal investigations themselves, the board proposed in the charter amendment would have the power to initiate investigations.

Horrigan said while he respects the charter amendment, he is concerned it could conflict with the city’s contracts with the Fraternal Order of Police, the police union.

“I’ve been open and transparent about not supporting the charter amendment,” Horrigan said. “Parts of it, I think, marry up pretty good; there are other parts I think are problematic, especially when it comes to the collective bargaining agreement.”

While council members were supportive of the mayor’s plan, several members expressed concern that the two proposals could be confusing for residents.

“How do we marry those two together is my concern, without it feeling like we just told all of these people who worked so hard to get signatures – thanks, but we’re going to roll with ours and not yours,” Ward 5 Councilwoman Tara Mosley said.

At-Large Councilwoman Linda Omobien, who helped craft the charter amendment, also expressed concerns about confusing voters and said she will not vote for the mayor’s ordinance.

“I hate that we’re coming in with two different pieces. I’m not really sure why the mayor couldn’t join forces with the citizens,” Omobien said.

Horrigan said his goal was not to confuse citizens, but that he felt compelled to move forward with the ordinance due to his disagreements with the charter amendment.

Brian Angeloni, the city’s assistant law director, brought up that the police union could sue to stop the charter amendment if voters approve it.

“If the union … filed a case, it could be locked up in litigation and there could be an injunction in place. We really don’t know,” Angeloni said.

Council President Margo Sommerville spoke up in support of the mayor’s ordinance, especially in the event that the charter amendment would fail or not hold up in court.

“(It’s) another vehicle that can still get us to the place in which we need to be – a place in which, maybe we can get there a little bit faster, in case we do have some issues, legally, that we might not be able to navigate,” Sommerville said.

Council is expected to vote on the legislation in the coming weeks.

At its regular meeting Monday night, the first since breaking for summer recess, council will also vote on whether to renew the police department’s contract with its bodycam supplier. They will also consider a resolution expressing support for Christine Fowler Mack, superintendent of Akron Public Schools, whose controversial negative performance review and comments from school board members were uncovered in June.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron and Canton for Ideastream Public Media.