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					State of the City Address

 Mayor Don Plusquellic

  Tangier Restaurant

      April 8, 2010

Thank you, and good afternoon.

       In some years, I’ve given this presentation in January.

       In other years, as late as February.

       But as last year – the toughest of my life - mercifully faded from view, I needed

some distance from the last 12 months before giving this year’s report to you of where

we stand in 2010.

       It’s April. The crocuses and the daffodils are up, and tulips are on their way. After

this tough winter, Spring is finally here, and if nothing else - Spring is about hope!

       So, as I stand before you today, I will tell you that the State of Our City is ...


       One reason I am hopeful is because of you - so many of you who make a

difference in people’s lives every day.

       My thanks to Dan Colantone and the staff of the Greater Akron Chamber for

making the arrangements for today’s program. And as always, the Kiwanis and Rotary

Clubs of Downtown Akron, and the Akron Press Club for being such long-time

supporters of this event.

       In the audience today are many city employees past and present, to whom I owe

my deepest thanks for the sacrifices they’ve made over the past year, and continue to

make this year - city managers and my Cabinet, who have taken cuts in pay without

complaint; Retired employees, like my lead secretary Shawanna Swartz and

Purchasing Agent Pat Ashbrook - who loved their jobs, and yet retired to save the jobs

of other employees.

       And current employees - my secretaries Laurie Hoffman and Linda Thompson

are among those who continue to manage our workload amidst difficult conditions. And

everyone who knows Linda wishes her the very best.

       Government employees take a lot of criticism in the public media. I know the

traditional image of city employees is a truck parked on the side of the road, with one

guy in the hole, 2 guys leaning on a shovel, and one supervisor watching – but that’s

not Akron, and it hasn’t been us for a very long time.

       Today, you’ll find city employees stepping up to fill the shoes of the people who

have retired.. They come in early and they stay late. There are cars in our parking lots

on weekends. They eat lunch at their desks very often, and they work harder for less.

       All of these past and present city employees deserve our collective thanks.


       And what has helped the city keep its balance as we walk a journey littered with

financial land mines is the strong relationship that I have with City Council. With five

new members this year, it’s been a time of learning for them.

       When you look at other cities around the country as I do - hearing about the

constant conflicts between mayors and legislators, I see how good people, having a

shared vision, working together and communication has elevated Akron to being one of

America’s successful cities. My thanks to Marco Sommerville and the city council

members who are here today: Jim Hurley, Russ Neal, Ken Jones, Tina Merlitti, Sandra

Kurt, Kelli Crawford, Jeff Fusco and Linda Omobien.

       The last time I was here – in February of last year, it was clear that the global

economy was tanking. Wall Street had all but collapsed, and unemployment numbers

were rising. I told you last year that we would take ―more drastic actions to maintain the

service our residents have come to expect.‖

       We did that. We enforced rigid spending controls, froze wages for our non-union

managers and other employees, and at year’s end, after finding $9-million in cuts, we

balanced the city’s budget as we are required by law to do.

       December was a pretty rugged month for me.

       Not just because of the year that started with attacks on me personally, and

ended with the most excruciating decisions I have ever had to make as mayor - but I

spent most of New Years Eve sick in bed with the stomach flu. I’ve joked it was a fitting

way to end a uh – crappy - year.

       That night I thought about how the city is like a person. When you don’t feel well,

you can’t live life normally. Your sleep and eating patterns change. Your work habits are

different when you’re sick.

       And in Akron, in the nation, around the world for the last year or so - we’ve had

the economic flu.

       To get better, we’ve done what we’ve had to do; meaning life has changed for us

in many ways, including taking bad-tasting medicine.

•      We have filled only the most necessary positions, and left other jobs vacant.

•      We eliminated overtime with few exceptions.

•      Travel was cut except for the most necessary trips.

•      We auctioned-off city vehicles

•      Cut the CITY magazine, calendar, and reduced the budget for summer and

       winter activities at Lock 3. We paid for this year’s ice rink entirely from private

       funds and with help from our businesses and foundations.

In other words, we put ourselves on a diet.

       Personally, I used the adversity of last year to motivate me to go on a serious

diet, and two weeks ago, I got down to my playing weight in college. Then I read that

the Browns like old quarterbacks.

       I’m ready.

       Come on --- after last year - - getting hit by 300 pound tackles seems like a

welcome relief.

       But the stresses of the last year - personal and professional definitely motivated

me to lose pounds.

       Last year, our city diet was to cut everything we could before we cut safety

forces. We have continued to respond in a timely manner to police calls, fire and EMS

calls to 9-1-1.

       I worked with Superintendent of Schools David James to place eighteen police

officers - who otherwise would have been without jobs - inside our school buildings,

instead of their using private security firms. And we saved the jobs of 23 police officers

through the federal stimulus grant to the COPS program.

       We are cleaning streets, patching potholes, maintaining parks, and providing

other services with 77 fewer employees in the Department of Public Service than we

had a year ago, and Service Director Rick Merolla has almost 30% fewer employees

than we had just 5 years ago.

       In spite of his cutbacks, we have re-doubled our nuisance patrols in our

neighborhoods as well.

       Thanks to a good corporate citizen — we were also able to save jobs in 2009

because of a generous one-time early payment at the end of the year from First

Energy. I thank Tony Alexander for his ongoing commitment to this community.

       I eliminated 5 members of my cabinet. My office has 44% fewer employees than

a year ago - more than any other department.

       Overall, we have fewer employees than at any time since I came to city hall in

1975: 1,938 full time employees.

       Compare that to over 3,400 employees the City had in 1979,

       Last month, I directed all of our managers, cabinet members, and non-

bargaining employees to take 34 hours without pay through June - which will save us

approximately $300,000, and no one in our non bargaining group, including managers

and cabinet is getting a raise... again.... this year.

       The impact of the global recession was pretty clear: over the last 12 months or

so, more than one out of every ten people looking for work in Akron has been unable to

find a job.

        When the Akron Zoo held a job fair in mid-February for seasonal positions - 677

people showed up.

        The direct impact of unemployment and underemployment is that we collect less

income tax. In 2009, the city income tax - our primary source of funding - was down


        Money from the state - our share of the sales tax and other funds - was down

13%. Our small share of property taxes was down 6 %.

        Just as in your business, most of our costs are in salaries and benefits. So after

we cut everything else, we asked our employees to share in the sacrifices that would

prevent more layoffs.

        There are some aspects of Municipal Government Finance that are complicated.

But our problem today is pretty simple and easy to understand: When the wage-earner

of the family loses work... you cancel part of your vacation. When the wage earner

loses his or her job... you cut every expense you can.

        Our income to operate the general fund in the city is mostly dependent on people

working - the city income tax. And when one of every ten people has lost their job – we

have to cut back.

        Is there any serious person in this room today who believes that any elected

official LIKES laying off police officers and firefighters? There’s not one of America’s

6,000 mayors who take any pleasure in curtailing safety forces.

        But in Akron, as in every city - police and fire are about 70% of our budget.

       Each one of our police officers and firefighters costs us about 100- thousand


       So, unless you want us to completely stop plowing snow, stop fixing streets, stop

inspecting food, and houses, and picking up glass in the parks, when our income drops

- a mayor has no where else to cut.

       Most everyone in Akron gets this - except the leaders of some of our bargaining

units - who apparently are waiting for the Income Tax Fairy to appear and drop magic

dust on the city’s budget.

       Four of our bargaining units last year did recognize the seriousness of our

budget situation and made sacrifices to save jobs. Only one refused to make any

sacrifice to protect their own jobs, and 38 young firefighters were put onto the street.

       Sadly, we paid out $120,000 in overtime pay for the City Picnic - - on a day when

we didn’t have a picnic, because the leadership of police and fire refused to lead in a

responsible way.

       Is there anyone here who has a paid picnic day? A 14th paid holiday? I can tell

you, from my conversations with companies and unions alike – no one in the private

sector has the kind of packages ours do – and they too, have already made sacrifices.

       This year, the financial forecast remains ―mostly cloudy.‖ Through March, city

income taxes are down about two percent. Other sources of revenues, down eight

percent. While unemployment numbers looked better in March... there is still talk in

Washington about a ―double-dip‖ recession, meaning we’re not out of the woods yet.

        But it’s April, and Spring is here, and there are good reasons to be hopeful about

Akron’s long-term future.

        We have had numerous accomplishments, and as usual, I’ve placed a hand-out

on your tables for those who want more details about our performance, rather than

stand here and read statistics.

        What was most notable, and least reported on so far, is the re-structuring of local

government that has been going on, and must continue in the future.

        Now I must say that some of what I’m going to talk about is redundant since my

good friend Russ Pry already took credit for all of our work . . . but this is the time when

we can re-organize and prepare for the time when the recession ends. And we will be in

a better position to handle prosperity.

        This is part of the diet we have placed ourselves on - to cut expenses AND

continue to deliver high quality services.

        I first announced our desire to consolidate services with county government five

years ago. Since then, we have combined our weights & measures divisions. The

county Building Department now does inspections in Akron instead of our maintaining a

whole separate bureaucracy for that identical purpose.

        Last year, I discussed new city police collaborations with Sheriff Drew Alexander,

who with the help of his chief deputy and former Akron councilman Garry

Moneypenney, have been finding ways to increase efficiency while saving money to

form new collaborations with the Akron Police Department under the leadership of Gus


       Today, we are discussing how we can leverage the superb advantage we have

in our 9-1-1 dispatch center, to provide these outstanding services not only to the

county, but to other local safety forces as well.

       Last February, Russ Pry and I jointly announced the creation of a Health District

Feasibility Committee, chaired by one of this community’s great leaders, Children’s

Hospital president Bill Considine.

       With funding from Akron Tomorrow, the Greater Akron Chamber, the Akron

Community Foundation and GAR Foundation, the committee of 21 citizens issued its

report in February, with the professional assistance of the Center for Community

Solutions. Their 46-page report is available online, and the web link is in the handout.

       The report and the process leading to it is a tribute to the entire community. And

especially to Gene Nixon of the Summit County Health District and Tom Quade of the

Akron Health Department.

       By January of next year, we hope to have in place the mechanism that will allow

the two health departments to consolidate services. It will certainly be more efficient.

Over time, it will save taxpayers money.

       As its vision, the feasibility group said the end result of any consolidation must

―protect and improve the health and well being of all people in Akron and Summit

County, as defined by the number of healthy years lived.‖

       Unfortunately, the same group that failed in last year’s effort against me is at it

again - to try and torpedo these good efforts of the health consolidation - with half-truths

and outright lies.

       I urge you to read the consolidation report for yourselves. The Akron Health

Commission -created by Akron’s Charter will remain intact as a group of caring leaders

to assure the delivery of quality, efficient health services to city residents.

There are other initiatives:

       Russ Pry and I are discussing how our employee wellness programs might fit


       How we might create a larger buying group for health insurance - and we have

included Luis Proenza and David James in these discussions, because together - the

city, the county, the schools and the university can realize new economies of scale -

whether it’s buying goods and services or having a common center to maintain our

fleets of vehicles.

       Dr. Proenza, Russ Pry, Dan Colantone and I meet every month to discuss the

ways we can collaborate. One topic is how we cooperate more and duplicate services

less. But no topic gets more attention than Job One: getting and keeping jobs. It’s been

my priority for 24 years.

       This past year, we’ve had inquiries from other cities around Ohio. They want to

know how we’ve been so successful in getting companies from Europe, Israel, and Asia

to move to Akron and hire our people.

       At last count, our efforts overseas were responsible for 29 new companies who

have created hundreds of new jobs.

       Next week, my economic development director Bob Bowman will be returning to

the Hannover Trade Fair, the largest of its kind in the world, where Akron has had a

steady presence for over 20 years.

       Later, I will join him in Helsinki, Finland for a meeting with that city’s mayor and

leaders of a biomedical industry which is churning out dozens of new companies with

new products for health care, and they will be coming to the U-S market – why not


       The agreement that we will sign will help bring those companies to Akron to hire

people here for the new jobs that will be created.

       We already have an even more extensive agreement with Israel.

       Last year, two new Israeli companies moved into our Global Business

Accelerator, where Mike LeHere has 50 tenants employing over 260 people - most of

them high tech or biomedical, or both.

       By the way, if you are tired of hearing only bad news about the economy, there is

plenty of good news in the report about Ohio’s future prepared by the Brookings


       Ohio – the think tank says – is better positioned for the future than many areas of

the country, because of our manufacturing heritage. Three things suggest this hopeful

note: Exports, innovation, and low carbon.

       Akron, it says – is in the country’s top third of metro areas in terms of

manufacturing exports. Ohio is in the top 10 nationally when it comes to the number of

PhD’s in science, and Akron has the highest concentration of new patents of any region

in the state.

       Our companies in the Akron Global Business Accelerator, and the researchers

who are funded by the Austen BioInnovation Institute, are at the forefront of this

manufacturing technological revolution.

       Soon, Brookings will release another report comparing Akron to other cities. The

early release of this report will say that Akron has outperformed all of its peer cities in

the Midwest, because Akron has a long-term development agenda that is what Dr. Ned

Hill calls the perfect balance between strategy and tactics. Not only do we aggressively

pursue economic development, but we have done it in a way that shows we have

learned from our experience, we have honed our skills at attracting new companies,

without the political pressure that has crippled economic development efforts in other

cities our size.

       Our Council can also take credit for our success, because they have resisted the

kind of political bickering seen in other cities.

       I want to emphasize something today if you haven’t realized it before. We

prioritize and target manufacturing companies. I have never bought into the premise,

that to create new wealth, he can shine her shoes, she can clean his clothes, and he

can cook their dinner. Service jobs are important. But making something—even

software and other high-tech products, even non-traditional products, is still the way

societies build wealth.

       It’s almost unbelievable that R’s and D’s in Washington are talking about the

need for a national manufacturing policy. I’ve been talking about this as a way to create

jobs, even before I was mayor. And if you look at the op-ed piece by Thomas Friedman

that we have placed at your tables - it appeared in the Beacon Journal two days ago --

we have been doing exactly what he has suggested as the real way to create jobs.

       We’ve worked to nurture new start-ups and early stage companies. Forty out of

the 50 tenants at the business accelerator are local people. And we have a great record

of attracting overseas companies that are employing hundreds of residents, because

they are here rather than in some Southern state.

       We are also doing the daily blocking and tackling for small businesses locally.

       One thing that I’m appalled at is what many of our small manufacturing

businesses are going through right now. Some Akron companies with strong

reputations having made investments in modern equipment with orders for products in

hand – have had trouble getting capital they need to keep the workforce we have.

       We are losing jobs and losing small manufacturing firms because credit is so

tight. Words are inadequate to express my frustration at seeing how hard we work to

get and keep jobs, and then see them slip away through forces against which we have

no control.

       There are many things I know I can impact personally. Solving the national credit

crisis is not one of them. However, we are working with local banks that have an

interest in keeping jobs, to put together another unique program to solve a challenge

that is not ours alone. And I urge - - I encourage, no - - I urge our banks to work in a

committed way to find an opportunity to make this work.

       This is the job of being Mayor: taking on challenges, and turning them into

opportunities. Every day is a combination of frustrations and hope. But because it’s

more hope than frustration, the job of being mayor still energizes me every day.

       I have been frustrated that despite our substantial grants of money to the Soap

Box Derby, that it has been unable to find a sustainable source of revenue.

       But I’m hopeful, because when I carried that frustration to our business

executives last December, they agreed with me that it’s important to keep the Derby as

an icon of Akron. With the help of Dan Colantone, Bill Ginter, and the Greater Akron

Chamber, the new Derby board is on its way to planning a more hopeful future. The

Corbin Bernson movie started filming yesterday, and I believe it will help bring more


       I have long been frustrated with the U-S EPA. Sixteen years ago, before we

were required, we started investing in a plan to correct a problem of combined sewer

overflows that were designed and built with the help of the federal WPA in the 1930's.

Eight years ago, I announced a 370-million dollar commitment to re-build our sewer

system after reaching agreement with the Ohio EPA, which the U-S EPA summarily

dismissed, and we started over.

       But this past year, after talking personally with Attorney general Eric Holder and

Administrator Lisa Jackson of the Environmental Protection Agency, we reached an

agreement with the government on a long term control plan that will cost Akron sewer

users about 500-million dollars over 20 years.

       Usually, I’m all alone when I passionately and emotionally describe these

frustrations. But this year, I learned that the affable, mild-mannered, soft-spoken,

reasonable mayor of Lima, Ohio David Berger - - who has gone through almost exactly

the same sequence of events as Akron - - can get as wild-eyed as me. Lima also had

an agreement with the state of Ohio, and the U.S. EPA stepped-in and delayed

implementation, costing Lima $10 million more.

       At a meeting in Washington with the Department of Justice and U.S. EPA last

year, Mayor Berger described how disgusted he was with the way the feds treated him

and his city.

       ―I will not pay a fine,‖ Mayor Berger said. ―You can throw me in jail!‖ He was

expressing the same frustration all of us had felt - to be demonized by our federal

government officials for something that was last done before any of us were born.

       We have placed on your tables a new brochure we are releasing today

explaining the CSO issues. These things are always about balance - yes, this will cost

Akron a lot. It was the best deal we could make. And it does realize a benefit that we

endorse: to be good stewards of our environment. I’m proud of our watershed - where

eagles now nest; and our Botzum Sewage Treatment plant where herons roost.

       Because of this effort to control overflows, our grandchildren will have the

benefits of a cleaner Cuyahoga River.

       I have long been frustrated with the slow progress at one of our most diverse and

stable neighborhoods - Highland Square. Last year, I told you that we have conducted

an exhaustive search for a grocery operator. Finally, I think we have one. I have

announced previously that we are working with a non-profit operation, Cornucopia,

which runs the Nature’s Bin Store in Lakewood, to determine if they can utilize a

workforce that includes persons with disabilities in a fresh foods store at West Market

and Portage Path.

       This is not a new venture for us. We supported the opening of Henry’s Acme at

Wooster-Hawkins, and invested in the project that allowed Dave’s Market to open at

Middlebury. A grocery store within a short distance of a residential area is one of the

things that keep a neighborhood cohesive.

       Today I want to report that we are working with Steve Albrecht and his real

estate company to purchase at just their cost, the new building and property on West

Market Street to help facilitate the overall development that will include a grocery store.

       We will take on the responsibility of making this happen, even in these tough

times. I’m hopeful we will be successful.

       Overall, my frustrations on a daily basis are exceeded by those things that give

me hope.

       Over the last several weeks, with Stimulus funds, we began re-building the All-

America Bridge. Not only was it time for the 40-year old bridge deck to be repaired, but

it was past time for the same standards that apply to every federally-funded bridge

project in the nation to be applied to our Y-bridge - to build a fence to prevent suicides.

Soon, we will soon begin projects on Hilbish and South Main Street, and all tolled- the

City of Akron and agencies in the city will receive 118-million dollars in Stimulus funds.

For that, I thank our representatives in congress Betty Sutton,Tim Ryan, and Senators

Brown and Voinovich.

       Our Planning Department received an infusion of over 11-million dollars last year

from the federal government’s neighborhood stabilization program. These moneys - like

all federal stimulus dollars were to be spent quickly to create jobs. Last year, we

demolished over 400 houses and commercial properties in Akron. We acquired almost

70 foreclosed homes, and will turn these properties to provide at least 100 new homes.

       We need to realize that much of Akron was built quickly without much planning,

to respond to the needs of thousands of workers who came to get jobs in the rubber

factories. As historian George Knepper has said, ―These houses were not built to last a

hundred years.‖

       So we have been aggressive in tearing down old, dilapidated houses, making

way for new developments to meet modern needs.

       That means we are planning a city that is probably about 205 to 210-thousand

residents, which is what we expect the census to show. That decrease is not a bad

thing, if we plan properly and use it to improve the quality of life for our residents and

our workforce.

       Which leads me to announce an effort that we will be doing with the University of

Akron and others, to ask foundations to support our overall planning process to

strategically create a plan that best develops the older central core of our city.

       We have some wonderfully exciting things going on in the Biomedical Corridor

for creating jobs and new housing in the University Park neighborhood, and in our

Downtown Special Improvement District, including the Testa development at Northside

and Marty Mehal’s student housing on the south end.

       We need a comprehensive plan to maximize the benefits, and coordinate the

efforts to re-develop the areas where Akron first began.

       I am also hopeful about our ability to solve crimes using intelligence gathered

from data we already collect. This improved markedly last year, thanks to a group of

committed people working in the Akron Police Department - who without much fanfare,

have brought into being one of the best applications of intelligence-led policing in the

state of Ohio.

       That’s the conclusion of a recent study that showed that Akron is far ahead of

other departments in gathering crime data overnight, and identifying ―hot spots‖ where

the deployment of more officers – especially in our neighborhoods - would make a

difference in crime. What we’ve done in the Summit Lake neighborhood is a good

example of increased enforcement.

       Under Captain Mike Prebonik, we continue to modernize our department by

using computer technology as another weapon against criminals. Within several

months, I expect that from your home computer, you will be able to access a

searchable data base of incident reports, so you can create your own ―intelligence‖ to

know what’s going on in your neighborhood, and to better be able to assist police


       But we need even more creative and up-to-date technology and methods in our

police department and we need to make permanent a process of community

engagement with our police.

       With the help of nationally recognized experts in policing - the Police Executive

Research Forum out of Washington, DC - we will repeat a process first started in 2001

to bring together over 100 community leaders, including 38 block club presidents, to

study best police practices around the country, and make recommendations on how we

want to be policed here in Akron.

       Tony O’Leary has agreed to lead this effort, and he and I agree it is not an effort

to criticize the majority of hard-working police officers. It is a process to make sure they

are operating with the most up-to-date procedures and equipment that is available;

while building a process of permanent community involvement that will help officers with

the support they need to better do their job.

       At the height of the recession, we broke ground for several major projects. In

February, I was pleased to join Bridgestone officials as they began construction on their

new Akron Technical Center at their south Main Street campus. Together with Russ Pry

and Summit County Council president Jon Poda and his colleagues, Governor

Strickland, and Development Director Lee Fisher, and our Summit County delegation to

the legislature – we saved a thousand high-paying jobs, and kept the Firestone brand

connected with the place where it was founded.

       The national collapse of the world credit market prevented the construction of

Goodyear’s new world headquarters in Akron from getting started, but we did make


       We completed the $3-million reconstruction of a sewer along Martha Avenue,

and there is already forty million dollars in public funds to assist in building the

infrastructure needed to support the development of the sites in east Akron where new

construction will take place. Keeping Goodyear’s headquarters in Akron and its 3,000

employees remains a high priority for us.

       Last November, with Dr. Proenza and University scientists, we broke ground on

Summit Street for Akron Polymer Systems. This heralds the first new company to build

in our Biomedical Corridor, and is an important symbol of the kind of companies that

are doing research, and then manufacturing products for medical use locating in Akron.

       It also demonstrates the critical links between the city and the University of Akron

as partners in the future of the region.

       There is probably no one I have met that understands what we are trying to do to

provide jobs, and who understands better what it takes, than Dr. Frank Douglas, who

has been hired to head the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron. A brilliant man who

has experience all over the world in research and development, including running an

enterprise at MIT. He uses the word ―commercialization‖ more than I do, even though

he’s a researcher by trade.

       But he realizes that if we are going to compete with the rest of the world, the U-S

– and I mean Akron – needs to take ideas into products AND produce them here to

provide jobs for our people. He is a welcome addition to our community, and I thank

him for his commitment to this community.

       It is hard to believe that it has been ten years since I brought together a group of

400 Akron residents - many of them here today, for a look at out future called

Imagine.Akron: 2025. Since the groups’ report was issued in 2000, we have continued

to find inspiration in their work.

       A key recommendation was to get our residents into school buildings after hours,

weekends, and in the summer. Our superintendent David James is largely responsible

for the success of the largest building program ever undertaken in Akron. Every school

building is being rebuilt as a Community Learning Center, and today, 17 have opened,

7 more will open this year, and 7 are under construction. Among them, the new STEM

middle school, housed at a redesigned National Inventors Hall of Fame.

       Imagine.Akron urged more hospital collaboration. Summa and Akron General

came together on a new long term acute care center. And their joint support of the

Biomedical Corridor has already helped attract jobs.

       One long-term goal - the pent-up demand for more access to internet bandwidth.

came faster than we planned. As of today, we have built out over 3 and one-half square

miles of a wireless network, part of our ―Connect Akron‖ partnership with One

Community. The Urban League received $2-million from the federal broadband

stimulus, which will enable us to close the digital divide in our neighborhoods.

       And because of the good work of the Downtown Akron Partnership, the Civic

Theatre, and others - we welcomed our one-millionth visitor to Lock 3 last summer. In

the history of anyone here today, Downtown has never been cleaner, more attractive,

and diverse.

       Another reason I am hopeful, is what happened last June. Last February, when I

stood here, a small but vocal group of radicals asked that I be removed from office. (I

don’t use that other word that starts with R-E.)

       I learned that when they take time to evaluate the truth, our residents make good

decisions for their city, and I thank all of you who helped us fight-off that mis-guided,

deceptive campaign.

       In June, the voters turned-back their effort by a 71% margin. But this was after

the dissident group cost the city $200,000 in the costs for a special election, and tens of

thousands of dollars in handling their mountain of public records requests.

       This group thought they were being patriotic by personally attacking me.

       We now know that unfortunately, about twenty-some percent of voters will follow,

no matter how big the lie, even from a tax cheat.

       And what people don’t realize is that I’ve never ducked a hard question. I’ve

never avoided an honest debate. Over my 23 years, few elected officials have held as

many wide-open press conferences as I have held, without ever once saying ―no

comment.‖ When I go to ward meetings, I love being challenged.

       But today we have an ―anything goes‖ attitude in public debate. One of my

constant critics even told the Beacon Journal that using mis-leading statements is a

―tool‖ that he uses. There are those who think that it’s perfectly acceptable to lie if it

scores points for your side in public debate.

       That’s why I mourn the loss of Akron’s ―#1 Citizen,‖ who died recently.

       He wasn’t a captain of industry. You won’t find his name on a wall of wealthy

benefactors. Most of you here never met him, and maybe never heard of him.

       His name was Matt Sibit, and he died last week at age 90.

       All of us on city council got to know Matt, because he did what the founders of

the American republic expected all of us to do - to participate in our democracy.

       Matt attended council committee meetings on Monday afternoons, and he

returned most Monday nights.

       He had strongly held opinions, and at public hearings - whether it was in his

neighborhood or not, he consistently stood up for ―the little guy.‖

       Over the years, all of us found times when we got into some pretty spirited

disagreements with Matt.

       But the single most important quality of public debate that he upheld was one of

the most meaningful things he ever said to me - ―I have no malice in my heart.‖

       This is what made him different from those mean-spirited, anonymous bloggers

and talk-show callers. There might be times when he wasn’t tactful. But he was always

truthful. He had a pure heart.

       That’s why I thought the world of Matt Sibit, and I think the world of others like

him: Rich Swarski, Larry Vuillemin, Irv Sugarman, former mayor Pete Kostoff, Dave

James, Mayor Karen Fritschel, and even John Frank (most of the time).

       They all have heated disagreements with me - but I never doubted it was an

honest effort to get things done.

       Even a person who I now consider one of my best friends, Marco Sommerville,

had a loud argument about some issues, early in our careers.

       But unlike the jihadists who have commandeered public debate today - a win-at-

all-costs-approach, Matt and others could argue with government policies and remain

true to the people who were trying hard to administer them, knowing that honest people

can have different opinions, and still remain friends.

       Matt came to city council meetings and engaged in public debate for all of the

right reasons. He was a citizen’s citizen. And we will miss him.

       Who will step up to invest the time that he did?

       Many of you have, but we need more citizens: whether it’s people adopting

schools, Churches reaching beyond their walls, businesses giving workers time off to

tutor – the key to Akron’s success ultimately is and has been the engagement of our

people in causes larger than themselves.


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