Why did Councilman Russel Neal raise his voice at that Akron City Council meeting on Dec. 16, declaring to Mayor Don Plusquellic: “You’re not leaving until you tell me who said something about me”? The quote is from the mayor’s letter to the community released on Friday. What the mayor did not include was the verbal poke he delivered moments earlier, suggesting that Neal had revealed his true character, and it wasn’t flattering in the mayor’s view.
In his letter, Plusquellic argued that “Councilman Neal should be adult enough to admit he was the aggressor and not me — then let people judge what else happened as a result of his actions as they see fit.” Yet the mayor did not acknowledge his own part in escalating the situation. How different the letter would have been in tone and influence if the mayor had stepped up and admitted that he isn’t blameless.
On that evening, the mayor rightly quieted the confrontation by attempting to depart the scene and then successfully doing so. No doubt some people have sought to exploit the situation, to jab the mayor, even push the notion that race drove the tussle. An offensive posting about the mayor surfaced on a Facebook page. The confrontation between Plusquellic and Neal wasn’t about race. It involved the usual power struggles among council members and with the administration.
The hard feelings should have been addressed long ago, Plusquellic and Neal meeting to clear the air and move ahead productively. If Neal has avoided a meeting, that reflects poorly on his judgment. It also departs from what has been his signature on the council, a willingness to sit down, talk and seek to bridge differences.
It is no secret that this editorial page thinks highly of the job the mayor has done the past 27 years. He has been one of the most effective elected leaders in the state, willing to take risks, embracing best practices, focusing on the key priorities of education, the city’s core and making the hard economic transition. He understands that getting things accomplished often requires discomfort and tough fights.
Still, the mayor too often fails to grasp the value in walking away. If he eventually did so at that council meeting, his letter to the community amounts to dashing back into the room.
The contention isn’t that he “should have just sat on the floor and let Neal have his way,” as the mayor put it. There are alternatives to the approach of his letter, less the echo of a bully and more about his own role as part of the “absolute facts.” This situation has been blown out of proportion, and now the more so. Russel Neal and the mayor should meet at the earliest opportunity and put the episode behind.