© 2022 WKSU
Public Radio News for Northeast Ohio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Akron City Council addresses confusion over 'threats' that led them to hold meetings virtually

Akron Councilman Russ Neal
Anna Huntsman
/
Ideastream Public Media
Akron Ward 4 Councilman Russ Neal addresses confusion on Oct. 3, 2022 over whether there were bomb threats at the municipal building, causing council to hold meetings virtually in July.

Akron City Council President Margo Sommerville has addressed the confusion over why council conducted its meetings virtually in July following the death of Jayland Walker, and whether there were actually concerns of a bomb threat.

At the regular council meeting Monday night, Ward 4 Councilman Russ Neal asked – as he has in every meeting since July – for the situation to be addressed. Neal is concerned that council met virtually so they did not have to face citizens in person, he said.

It was announced in a press release from Sommerville’s office July 7 that council would conduct its meetings virtually beginning July 11.

When Ideastream Public Media contacted Joan Williams, council’s chief of staff – who was listed as the press contact in the release – to ask why the meeting would be remote, Williams replied that there had been bomb threats at city hall.

“Bomb threats have been made against the municipal building. As such, measures have been taken to protect Council members, staff, and the community,” Williams said in the email. “It is incumbent upon Council to ensure it can continue conducting the legislative business of the City of Akron safely and peacefully.”

Since then, council leaders have repeatedly denied that there was a specific bomb threat, and Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett said his office was not aware of any bomb threat.

"The reason we didn't meet at city hall this evening was because of threats," Council Vice President Jeff Fusco said at the July 11 meeting.

Fusco reiterated this in the meeting last week on Sept. 26 when Neal once again pressed council leadership about the situation.

“No one that’s on Akron City Council said ‘bomb threat,’” Fusco said. “There’s a big difference, I think, between bomb threats and threats.”

There were “credible threats” targeted at the city’s administration, which is housed in the same building as council, Sommerville said. She did not want to put council members and the public at risk by meeting in person, she said. A city spokesperson has not yet responded to Ideastream Public Media's request for comment.

Sommerville would not directly state that Williams’ email was false information, but said there may have been miscommunication at that time about the type of threats received.

“If someone might have said a word, that maybe was not accurate, or was not true, or was not clear, I’m asking you, as the reporter, to not hold them to that because it was a very stressful time,” Sommerville said.

When asked again if the information in the email was erroneous, Sommerville said the email was not an official, public release from council.

“Now whether or not you had a conversation with Joan, Joan might have shared something of that nature, who was chief of staff, no official communication ever came out of Akron City Council saying that,” Sommerville said. “In the midst of everything that was going on, sometimes things can get mixed up in translation, sometimes those things happen just out of emotion, and panic, and stress.”

Residents held a protest outside of city hall on July 11, when the meeting was virtual. Many of them have spoken in council meetings since then, criticizing council for not making the public aware of the threats.

Several council members became visibly frustrated after Neal brought up his concerns at the most recent council meeting.

“We have sufficiently beaten this horse, and I would like to suggest that we have much, much bigger situations to take on,” Ward 1 Councilwoman Nancy Holland said, pointing out that residents spoke about housing issues and safety concerns in Highland Square during the meeting.

Ward 8 Councilman Shammas Malik added that he thinks Neal’s comments have been disrespectful.

“One member of this council, every week, speaks to us in a way that is incredibly demeaning, without ever once looking in the mirror at their role in this institution,” Malik said. “We must not have situations where we have this endless bickering. We all are better than that.”

Sommerville says she is working to convene a committee of council members, city employees and public safety officials to develop a strategy for how to better handle communicating about threats and building closures in the future.

Sommerville also denied that city council met virtually so that they did not have to face their constituents in person.

“There might be some council members that didn’t want to face the public. You know, maybe that’s the reality. But the majority of council members were still having ward meetings …you could pick up the phone and call us, we were at protests,” Sommerville said. “To say that Akron City Council didn’t want to face the public or our residents is not fair.”

Other council business

Council passed legislation extending Akron’s Joint Economic Development District (JEDD) agreement with Coventry Township. The agreement allows for the municipalities to share certain tax areas, funding, land, business development and EMS and fire services.

Councilmembers also viewed a demonstration and deliberated over a potential dashcam vendor in a special meeting ahead of its regular meeting.

Ward 5 Councilwoman Tara Mosley plans to introduce legislation authorizing the contract for the dashcams. The cameras and cloud storage would cost about $2 million, Mosley said.

The cameras should be automatically turned on when officers turn on their sirens – even if the city has to pay extra for the technology to be hooked up that way, she added.

“If there’s a situation where they have to respond quickly, now you’re talking about – we gotta press buttons all over the place, and so I’m hoping that whatever amount we come up with, that it’s included in there, anything that makes sure that the system is automatic, instead of manual,” Mosley said.

Mosley says she hopes they can use American Rescue Plan dollars to help pay for the cameras.

Calls for dash cams in Akron were renewed after Jayland Walker, an unarmed Black man, was fatally shot by police following a car chase in June.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron and Canton for Ideastream Public Media.