Akron City Council President Marco Sommerville will face at least one challenge in his new job as planning director: not always speaking his mind.
Sommerville is known for being outspoken, but those in Cabinet-level positions generally talk only when they’re called on, and even then might watch what they say.
An Akron councilman for 25 years, Sommerville got his first dose of this difference Monday afternoon, when he sat in the planning director’s seat during a committee meeting.
“It was very weird,” he said in an interview afterward. “I wanted to stay stuff back.”
Sommerville, 60, who was tapped earlier this month to become planning director Jan. 1, had his last official council meeting Monday night, with his council colleagues passing a resolution in his honor and praising him for his service to Ward 3 and as council president for 12 years. He sat in the seat he first occupied when elected to council in 1987.
“I thought we’d all dress like Marco,” said Councilman Garry Moneypenny, the new president, as he and the other council members revealed they had a white handkerchief as a pocket square in honor of the dapper dresser. “We will never be able to be like Marco. You’ve left a big shadow.”
The search has begun to find a replacement to fulfill the remainder of Sommerville’s term, which runs through the end of next year. Interestingly, one of the people who has expressed interest is Margo Sommerville, Marco’s 30-year-old daughter who is taking the lead in his funeral home because of his new job.
Marco Sommerville said he is trying to talk her out of it, just like he tried to dissuade her from becoming a funeral director.
“She didn’t listen,” he said, chuckling.
Several community activists and a local minister reportedly also have expressed interest. The person selected would have to run next year to keep the seat.
Sommerville’s appointment is part of a shuffling in Mayor Don Plusquellic’s Cabinet that began with the retirement of Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth this month.
Plusquellic tapped Public Service Director Rick Merolla as his new deputy mayor/chief of staff and moved Planning Director John Moore into Merolla’s spot. Those moves were not as surprising as the choice of Sommerville to take over for Moore.
Some questioned Sommerville’s qualifications for the job and said its $122,965 annual salary was being used to bump up his pension.
Plusquellic and Sommerville both insist he’s ready for the challenge.
Sommerville points to many improvements made during his tenure in Ward 3, including tearing down the former Lane Elementary School and building new houses to bring people back to the neighborhood.
“I understand economic development and planning and what sustains a city and a ward,” Sommerville said. “Look [at] what I have done in my own backyard. That makes me uniquely qualified for this position.”
Sommerville said he is excited about his new job and already has begun attending community meetings and talking to staff and managers.
“I have a lot to learn,” he acknowledged in an interview Monday.
Several community members spoke during Monday’s council meeting, tipping their hats to Sommerville.
Greg Harrison, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Ward 3, said Sommerville has joined the exclusive group of African-Americans, like Whitney Houston, who are known by their first names only.
“Everybody knows Marco,” he said.
Anyone interested in applying for the Ward 3 seat should send a letter of interest and resume to: Council Clerk Bob Keith, 166 S. High St., Akron, OH 44308 by 4 p.m. Dec. 27. A committee of council members, led by Ken Jones, will interview the candidates and make a recommendation to the full council.
Applicants must be of voting age and have lived in Ward 3 for a year.
“We are committed to having a representative for Ward 3 with as little down time as possible,” Moneypenny said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith.