A group of African-American pastors and community leaders are asking Akron’s mayor and council members to control their tempers.
The public call follows a heated debate that turned physical in December between Mayor Don Plusquellic and Ward 4 Councilman Russel Neal Jr.
At Monday night’s City Council meeting, 11 black residents, mostly pastors and community organizers, chided the politicians for not being able to set aside petty differences and address the larger issues that face Akron.
“What happened that day is an embarrassment to the citizens of Akron,” said Bruce Butcher, president of the Coalition of Concerned Clergy, Community Leaders and Citizens. “Public incidents such as these undermine our efforts.”
The altercation, which occurred in a room behind council chambers, occurred after the swearing-in ceremony for council members at the Dec. 16 meeting. Council President Gary Moneypenny said he told Plusquellic and Neal to “take it to the back room” when the two began arguing over committee assignments.
What he witnessed in the back room was not assault, he said. It wasn’t even the most “passionate” debate he’s seen in those chambers.
“I was in the room. I know what happened, but that’s not what’s important,” Moneypenny said.
What is important is that community members on Monday filled otherwise empty seats, voicing frustration not only about a “miniscule” event but also the larger concerns of the city.
“It takes a community to address these concerns and issues,” Neal said after he and Moneypenny thanked residents for attending the council meeting. Each extended an invitation for outraged attendees to return until their collective concerns have been addressed.
“If we are serious, because I’ve heard some people speak today [at the council meeting] that haven’t been to the meetings, ... I invite you to get on board,” said Neal, who did not apologize, but added that he will never again “play the game of politics.”
Plusquellic did not attend the meeting.
Rumors and media coverage of the altercation cast the city officials as unprofessional and unwilling to come together to tackle more pressing matters, meeting attendees said Monday.
“Yeah, you sold some papers. Yeah, it was good for talk radio,” said Gregory Harrison, a pastor at Antioch Baptist Church. “If we directed that much press to any shooting, to any school or any home foreclosure, we would have some results and a solution.”
Harrison noted that public attendance at Monday’s council meeting was unusually high.
“Because it was in the papers, people came down here,” he said, adding that pastors are working to get more people involved.
“You have to come to the committee meetings. You have to talk to the councilmen as a community,” he said.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.