© 2024 WYSO
Our Community. Our Nation. Our World.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Akron City Council fails again to pass civilian police oversight board candidates

Neal, Kammer at council
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Akron City Councilwoman Ginger Baylor, who joined the meeting virtually, explains why she decided to abstain from council's vote on civilian oversight board candidates on March 6, 2023.

Akron City Council once again failed to seat the city's new civilian police oversight board after five councilmembers voted against the candidates Monday night.

Council voted 6 to 5 with one abstention. Councilwoman Sharon Connor was absent from the meeting.

Councilman Donnie Kammer, who was absent during last Monday's initial vote, said he had taken more time to look into the proposed candidates and decided to vote no after learning "some" of the candidates had given "campaign contributions" to councilmembers.

"I believe there is some evidence, could be, where we have some campaign contributions that are made to a few of these councilmembers in this horseshoe," Kammer said. "A couple of these colleagues of mine have been really pushing the slate, and particularly one candidate."

Kammer did not provide any further specifics about the contributions but said he would not vote for council's proposed six picks or the mayor's three proposed nominees.

"Until I continue to do my research and we can move forward with a transparent citizens' review board," Kammer added.

The crowd of residents in attendance became audibly surprised when At-Large Councilwoman Ginger Baylor, who voted in favor of the candidates last week, abstained from voting. In her explanation, she brought up issues with the wording and procedures described in the "ordinance."

The review board was created by a charter amendment that voters overwhelmingly approved in the November election.

"I believe in the citizens' review committee, but I don't like some of the language in it," Baylor said. "I regret making this decision, but I believe it's in the best interest of a clearer understanding of political ethics on my part, and integrity."

She added that she did not want to vote for a slate of candidates; rather, take individual votes on each nominee.

Councilmembers Jeff Fusco, Mike Freeman, Phil Lombardo and Brad McKitrick were the other four "no" votes.

Council initially failed to pass the board due to disagreements over Imokhai Okolo, the only young Black man nominated to the board.

Some councilmembers took issue with a social media post Okolo made in the past in which he reportedly called police “pigs.” Several councilmembers came to his defense and said his perspective as a young Black man was needed on the board.

"I think it just shows you that [council's] stuck in their ways," Okolo told Ideastream Public Media during the first meeting. "I didn't expect this sort of contention from city council.”

Council voted multiple times during the five-hour meeting that lasted until midnight. Each time, council voted 8 to 4, narrowly missing the nine votes needed to approve the board.

Council is voting on a slate of candidates, rather than each nominee individually. Moving forward, council may consider swapping out Okolo’s name with someone else.

Several councilmembers have been vocal about their frustrations about council missing the deadline on Feb. 27, including Shammas Malik and Tara Mosley, who are both running for mayor.

“We should have got it done Monday night, but people wanted to play games,” Malik said. “We have to get this done as soon as possible. I think we’ll go ahead and figure it out, but it will continue to be messy, because some people do not like change.”

Mosley called the process “disrespectful” to Okolo.

At-Large Councilwoman Linda Omobien has also expressed her support for Okolo, but some of her comments sparked controversy over the past week. In defending Okolo’s social media comments, she said Akron Police “murdered” Jayland Walker. Akron’s police union issued a vote of “no confidence” on the councilwoman.

While eight officers killed Walker when he reportedly turned toward them during a car and foot chase, the incident is still under investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and no charges have been filed.

Omobien expressed regret for her remark during Monday's meeting.

Updated: March 6, 2023 at 10:14 PM EST
This story has been updated to include comments from council members Kammer and Baylor.
Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.