Akron City Council jumped quickly out of order Monday to address the elephant in the room: racism.

The meeting ended with an evenly split council vote on a black councilman’s attempt to censure a white councilman who has told black peers to stop talking, shut up and sit down.

The Monday night meeting began with each council member passing through metal detectors, just like the public must, at the request of some who feared the worst might happen. A week earlier, during a controversial discussion of race relations in America and throughout history, Bob Hoch, a white councilman from Ellet, quashed debate by telling At-Large Councilwoman Linda Omobien to shut up. He also told Veronica Sims, another black councilwoman, to sit down.

“To see professional black women degraded like that in a public political forum, it was just upsetting,” said the Rev. Roderick Pounds, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Akron, who organized other black ministers to attend Monday’s meeting to demand that Hoch apologize, and that civility and mutual respect return to City Council.

With social unrest in Charlottesville, Va., St. Louis and other cities, Pounds said Akron’s leaders fell victim to a deepening racial polarization in America. Since 2009, the percentage of Americans who consider racism a major problem has more than doubled from 26 to 58 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.

But viewpoints are disparate between whites and minorities, as evidenced in last week’s vote to repeal Columbus Day based on Christopher Columbus’ activity in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Councilman Russ Neal, at the end of Monday’s meeting, introduced a bill to publicly censure and reprimand Hoch, relieving him of serving on any committee until 2018. Neal, who is black, represents Ward 4 in West Akron.

Split vote

Neal’s censure fell by a 6-6 vote. Hoch abstained. The censure was supported by every minority member of council and Zack Milkovich. Councilman Rich Swirsky said he supported 90 percent of the legislation, which indicated that Hoch “destroyed the decorum of council” and “embarrassed and damaged the reputation of council and the city of Akron.”

“I would support some sort of sanction on Mr. Hoch. But I need more than five minutes to think about this,” said Swirsky, explaining he had been given the bill only moments earlier.

Neal said his censure was “based on a series of incidents.”

In the early spring, Hoch quarreled with the Rev. Greg Harrison, who raised the issue of how Akron residents are treated from one city ward to the next based on the color of their skin. In July, Hoch walked out after arguing with Neal. Though not mentioned Monday, former Mayor Don Plusquellic once accused Hoch of making threats against his life.

Most recently, Hoch told Sims to stop speaking during a committee meeting Monday afternoon. Sims was asking city engineers a seemingly innocuous question about LED light bulbs in street lamps.

“I was told that I’m not allowed to speak. Unheard of,” Sims said that evening.

“Again, power unchecked. No one checked him,” Sims said, placing some of the blame with President Marilyn Keith, who attends all afternoon committee meetings. Sims went further, suggesting new leadership on council.

Another councilwoman agreed. “I may not be in a popular place for saying this: I not only support the motion by Councilman Neal, I move that we do something about leadership,” Councilwoman Tara Mosley-Samples said.

Hoch gave a general apology. Many of the black people in the council chambers audience wanted more.

Children at debacle

Harrison was among other pastors who reminded council that several children not only attended last week’s debacle but viewed it online.

“A proper apology is in order,” Harrison said, even after hearing Hoch apologize.

“We shouldn’t give a blanket apology. We should give a specific apology,” said the Rev. Stacey Jenkins, pastor of House of Prayer for All People in Akron.

Hoch adjusted and spoke more specifically about his behavior.

“I am a stickler for rules and procedures,” said Hoch, who used the rules a week earlier to stop debate on the Columbus Day issue.

“Was I out of order? Yes,” said Hoch, who added that the whole of council was out of order last week.

“I was out of order and Mrs. Sims, I’m sorry I told you to sit down,” Hoch said, after making a more general apology earlier. “Mrs. Omobien, I was out of order for yelling at you; well, you were yelling at me. But I shouldn’t have told you to shut up.”

Councilman Donnie Kammer then reminded the public of the shoving matches and altercations between Neal and Plusquellic.

“If this is how we’re going to go about business with other council members, I’ll bring a resolution next week,” Kammer said, suggesting that Neal needs censuring, too.

“I rise in support of this legislation. At some point, we can’t just talk about doing better. We have to do that,” said Councilwoman Margo Sommerville. “Everyone is watching. Our children were watching.”

“Mr. Hoch’s words were reprehensible,” said Swirsky, who added that white privilege is real and that people shouldn’t have to remind society that black lives matter.

Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him @ABJDoug on Twitter or www.facebook.com/doug.livingston.92 on Facebook.