Margo Sommerville was only 7 when her father, Marco, first took a spot on Akron City Council.
Marco Sommerville held the Bible on Monday for Margo, now 32, who is taking over his Ward 3 seat.
Akron City Council unanimously approved a council screening committee’s recommendation Monday for Margo Sommerville to fulfill the remaining year of her father’s term. She immediately recited the oath of office and took the seat that her father sat in when he first joined council.
“I am truly humbled and am honored,” Margo Sommerville, now the youngest member of council, said in a speech after her appointment. “I look forward to being able to demonstrate who I am as an individual and what I can contribute to the community I grew up in. Thank you for the opportunity.”
She was one of nine candidates who applied to replace Marco Sommerville, who stepped down Jan. 1 to become planning director.
The screening committee members backed Sommerville’s appointment during the council meeting, though there was some dissension among them about whether she was the best candidate and whether council would face a backlash over the decision. This did happen, with some referring to the decision as nepotism or a political favor.
Akron has no nepotism rules and one need not look far to find another example of relatives working together. Council Clerk Bob Keith’s wife, Marilyn, is the Ward 8 councilwoman.
Council, however, didn’t appoint Marilyn Keith to this seat — she won it in a contested election. Council tapped Phil Montgomery to serve as a place holder until the election, saving council from having to pick between Keith and several other candidates. (Montgomery didn’t run.)
Active in community
Councilman Ken Jones, who chaired the screening committee, said the majority of the committee thought Margo Sommerville was the best candidate. She has a master’s in public administration — the only candidate with a degree higher than a bachelor’s — and has been vice president and funeral director at Sommerville Funeral Services since 2004 and took the lead in the business with her father’s new appointment. She also has been active in the community, including serving on several local boards.
“This is the person we believe will do the absolute best job,” agreed Councilman Jeff Fusco, another screening committee member. “She has the knowledge, ability, education and experience to go forward.”
Margo Sommerville, who returned Monday from a weeklong cruise with some friends, is disappointed about the criticism her appointment has received.
“I think it’s sad that that’s what people think when they see a situation where a child wants to follow in their parent’s footsteps,” said Sommerville, who had a whole row of family and friends at Monday’s council meeting. “They assume they are doing what their parent’s done because they convinced them to do it or were groomed. I grew up around politics and saw my father’s legacy. It inspired me to want to do the same. This is just something I wanted to do.”
Sommerville said she definitely plans to run to keep the seat this year when all 10 ward and the three at-large spots will be on the ballot. Several of the other Ward 3 applicants have also said they will try for it.
Marco Sommerville, 60, who tried to talk Margo out of putting in for his seat, doesn’t think it would be fair to hold the fact that she’s his daughter against her.
“I know she will do a good job and work hard,” he said. “She won’t be dependent on me. She can hold her own.”
Two other applicants for the Ward 3 seat spoke during council’s public comment period.
Andrae Long congratulated Margo and Marco Sommerville on their new positions, though he said he thinks the appointment process wasn’t handled properly. He thinks it was a foregone conclusion that Margo would be selected.
“What troubles me is that you made a mockery out of democracy,” said Long, who plans to run for the seat. “It was not illegal, but I do disagree with the way business is being done.”
Anthony Brown, another candidate, said he would like to have been chosen, but wishes Sommerville the best of luck.
“I accept what council said,” he said. “I will be rooting for you. One of these days, I hope to have the opportunity to sit in the horseshoe.”
Mayor Don Plusquellic jokingly congratulated Margo Sommerville for a better and more concise speech than her father ever gave. He said the fact that someone’s parents or grandparents were in public office shouldn’t prohibit their family members from also serving.
“You won’t be getting any different treatment,” he warned Margo. “Just the respect you’ve earned from your reputation and integrity.”
In other business, council passed a resolution urging Congress and the state legislature to enact “gun control laws, education initiatives and solutions to end gun violence in schools and public areas.” The resolution will be sent to local congressional representatives and members of the state legislature.