More than six weeks have passed since Tara Mosley-Samples scored an upset and unseated an incumbent Akron City Council member, but controversy surrounding her victory shows no signs of waning.
Opponents still question whether Mosley-Samples lives in Ward 5, and now are raising the issue of whether she can serve concurrently as a council member and an Akron Municipal Court bailiff. The city’s law director says no.
Her adversaries also are dredging up financial issues involving Mosley-Samples and her family.
Mosley-Samples, 42, said she has not decided whether she will continue as bailiff for Judge Kathryn Michael, a job she has held for five years. She doesn’t think there’s a conflict in the jobs.
“It will be my choice,” she said in a recent interview. “I will make sure I do the right thing by everybody. Before I ran, it wasn’t important. I prayed about it before. The opportunity was there. This is something I want to do.”
The continued challenges are the latest in a difficult road to public office for Mosley-Samples.
In the months leading to the primary, she defeated a challenge as to whether she is living with her parents in their Ward 5 home. The Summit County Board of Elections was swayed by her father’s testimony that she moved in with them last October. Even after the ruling, she got calls from her mother saying people were taking pictures outside of their house while Mosley-Samples was at work.
Mosley-Samples, who faces no opposition in the Nov. 5 election, sits on the other side of the political fence from the ruling majority in Akron, led by Mayor Don Plusquellic and his allies on council, a group that includes Councilman Ken Jones. It was Jones whom Mosley-Samples defeated in this year’s primary.
She took a leave from her job as bailiff to run Councilman Mike Williams’ mayoral primary campaign against Plusquellic in 2011. The two remain close allies and, in fact, Williams accompanied Mosley-Samples to a recent interview at the Beacon Journal.
Opponents of Mosley-Samples have indicated they might challenge her ability to hold office after she takes the oath Dec. 16 based on whether she lives in Ward 5. They also could contend Mosley-Samples cannot serve as both a council member and an Akron Municipal Court bailiff because the city approves the court’s budget, creating a potential conflict of interest.
“Clearly, she can’t,” Jones said. “She has to reconcile the situation.”
Law Director Cheri Cunningham shares Jones’ view. The city’s charter says council members “shall not be interested in the profits or emoluments of any contract, job, work or service for the municipality.” (An emolument is defined as “profit, salary or fees from an office or employment.”)
“I believe it’s a conflict,” Cunningham said in a recent interview. “I don’t want to say anymore on that. I believe the positions are incompatible.”
Williams, who is the most senior member on council, argues there is no conflict because Mosley-Samples is employed by the judge and the position isn’t civil service. He said the court is a separate body from the city.
Mosley-Samples makes a lot more as bailiff than she would on council, which is considered a part-time job. She will earn $57,117 this year as a bailiff, and council members make $33,010 annually, according to Finance Director Diane Miller-Dawson.
Deciding to run
Mosley-Samples said she always had intended to run for council, but the timing wasn’t right. With the race this year, she said, she thought the pieces finally had fallen into place.
“I paid attention to the redistricting,” she said, referring to the redrawing of the ward boundaries after the census. “I knew the neighborhood, knew the county. I went and talked to active people in the neighborhood. The feedback was overwhelming.”
Mosley-Samples said she thought, “What have I got to lose but lose?”
Williams said he told Mosley-Samples there’s a difference between running a campaign and being a candidate. With her experience working on his campaign and President Barack Obama’s two campaigns, he said, she knew what she was doing and that she needed to get out and connect with people.
“They were looking for leadership,” he said. “They do not expect her to fix every problem, but they wanted her to fight for them.”
Mosley-Samples said the challenges she has faced in her own life helped her to connect with voters. She was a teenage mother who had her first child at 16 and her second at 17. She now has five children and five grandchildren.
Mosley-Samples said she knows what it’s like to lose a job, be denied unemployment and worry about being able to pay bills. At a time when she and her husband were struggling, she had a car repossessed in April 2007.
“People talk about struggling — I understand that struggle,” she said. “I get it. I’ve been there.”
Mosley-Samples says she is now on firm financial footing, though she is trying to help her daughter pay for college and repaying her own student loans. She got a degree in political science/public policy management from the University of Akron.
“I’m all right,” she said. “As long as I pay my daughter’s tuition, I’m all right.”
Mosley-Samples’ opponents have raised questions about a foreclosure on the home where she formerly lived with her husband and property tax liens on the house where she now resides with her parents.
The foreclosure on a property on Dolton Road, where Mosley-Samples formerly lived with her husband, Antwyone Samples, was filed in 2009 and recently went through, with the house sold at a sheriff’s sale, according to Summit County Fiscal Office records.
Mosley-Samples said the house was her husband’s and she signed away her dower’s rights when it was first purchased. She said she also signed a document from the real estate agent saying she wouldn’t seek equity from the sale of the home.
She said she and her husband, who have been married for 10 years this month, have been struggling but are working on their problems.
Her parents owe about $4,350 in property taxes on their Seventh Avenue home and are on a plan to repay it, according to county records.
Her parents filed last year for a Homestead Exemption, which is a tax break given to senior citizens and those with disabilities, and received it this year. With the exemption, property is taxed at $25,000 less than its appraised value, according to the Summit County Fiscal Office.
Jones questioned whether the fact that Mosley-Samples’ parents qualified for the exemption is evidence that she doesn’t live in the home. If she did, he contends, the household would exceed the income requirement for the exemption.
Sarah Skapin Hegnauer, a spokeswoman for the Summit County Fiscal Office, said the eligibility requirement for the exemption for this year only involves a person’s age, disability status and ownership of the house. She said new income requirements approved by the legislature for next year will look at either the income of the homeowner and his or her spouse or the entire household’s income. She said the legislature is expected to pass legislation soon that clarifies which of these standards will apply.
Mosley-Samples said many people have asked her if there will be fireworks when she joins council. She replies by telling them that’s not what she’s there to do.
“I’m there to do a job for the residents of Ward 5,” she said. “I will not be in opposition to anybody.”
Williams said he’s looking forward to his protege joining him.
“I will enjoy the advocacy, enjoy the exchange of ideas and what she brings to the mix,” he said. “That’s going to be fun.”
Mosley-Samples has an additional role she plans to continue while she’s on council. She hosts an Internet radio talk show called Politica Talk with Tara Samples on RVoice Radio billed as “where people, politics and satire meet.”
She has been doing the show for about a year and said it mostly focuses on national issues, such as an episode on human trafficking. She took a break from the show to focus on her election and plans to return for weekly shows starting with the Thursday before the November election.
She said she sometimes talks about Akron politics, but will be mindful of her new role as a council member.
“Anything that has to do with my colleagues or constituency, I will not do it,” she said.