A Grand Vision
New Councilman at Large lays out his personal goals for the city
“My number one responsibility is to support and
back up the ward council people” – Jim Shealey, Council at Large
“Revised from City Council News, Vol. 1, 2008”
The newest councilman to represent the city at large steps into the position with a view of the big picture in Akron, a spirit of cooperation and a vision of an Akron that is reminiscent of its boom days. Former Ward 5 Councilman Jim Shealey was sworn in as councilman at large in February, after Councilman John Otterman resigned in order to serve in the Ohio House of Representatives. “As a councilperson I was comfortable in my ward, I got a lot accomplished and I had support from the people in the community,” Shealey said. “But when the position became available, I had the years and the seniority to move into it.” Shealey now plans to use his position to help realize his grand vision for the city.
Akron: population 250,000?
“I would like to see Akron get back to 250,000 people,” Shealey said. “That was a great population for Akron.” The last time Akron had a population of more than 250,000 was in 1970. Then, Richard Nixon was President of the United States and the rubber companies were major employers in the city of over 275,000 people. Tire manufacturing may not return to Akron on a large scale, but as one of three councilmen at large, Shealey is determined to be part of a cooperative plan to make sure that Akron does not fall victim to the kind of suburban sprawl he’s seen in other cities across the country. “There are cities in this country where the suburbs have choked them to death; every business is moving out, including the people that can afford to move,” Shealey said. “It’s vital that city government keeps our local economy growing.” Shealey realizes that jobs will keep people in the city. That’s why as a ward councilman he was behind the city’s efforts to keep major employers here, and why as councilman at large he’ll continue working with the city to maintain its economic base. “Last year we almost lost four major employers: Sterling; First Energy; Goodyear; and Firestone,” he said. “Part of our role as at large councilmen is to look at the overall picture and realize we are competing with other cities.”
A 21st century industrial revolution
Akron’s rubber and tire industry once existed in symmetry with technical and vocational education in Akron schools and other institutions. Shealey sees no reason why vocational and technical education shouldn’t remain a priority. “I don’t think we’re pushing vocational education and technical training enough,” Shealey said. “Maybe we need to get back to a magnet school for vocational programs like the former Central- Hower High School.” After all, Shealey figures, Akron can produce some of the nation’s best software developers, doctors and lawyers. Yet it also takes skilled professionals to construct and wire their buildings, manufacture and service their high-tech equipment, and design and plan vital systems from plumbing to security. That’s why Shealey supports programs like Youth Build for the young and Felons for Hire, the nonprofit organization that trains and certifies convicted felons in residential and commercial repair and construction. Shealey himself hired the group to make repairs on his home. “They may be felons, but we’re trying to train them so they become a positive part of the community instead of a negative,” Shealey said.
As Ward 5 Councilman and chair of Council’s Public Safety Committee, Shealey saw that young people with no direction, training or education often end up on the wrong side of the law. “I see kids in my ward standing on corners doing nothing and I see faces in the neighborhood that I haven’t seen in eight years,” he said. “Where have they been? Nine times out of 10 they’ve been in jail.” While Akron is still relatively safe, Shealey remains concerned about the rise in youth violence. He said he often dealt with youth crime in Ward 5, but now he can address the issue city-wide. “As of now Akron is the safest urban city in Ohio, but we have some issues which take away from the growth of the city,” Shealey said. “If we continue to have gang problems, violence and shooting, we are going to lose people.” Shealey feels personally compelled to curb youth violence after the events surrounding the shooting death of 18-year-old Shawrica Lester. Lester was a victim of a stray bullet in an alleged gang-related shootout outside a downtown nightclub in early 2007. Like many others, Shealey was angered by the release or light sentences the suspects received after witnesses claimed they were intimidated against testifying. As councilman at large, and as he continues to head the Public Safety Committee, he is personally committed to making sure nothing like that happens in the city again. “Last year was a difficult year because I felt so inadequate when Shawrica Lester was shot, and the people associated with her murder got light sentences or got away with it because they intimidated witnesses,” Shealey said. “That can no longer go on in this community.”
Remember the elders
Shealey believes the city’s older residents also need support from Council and the city in order to enjoy the best of Akron in their golden years. He’d like to be part of a solution that provides financial relief, housing options and other vital services to Akron’s senior citizens. He would support a local property tax break similar to tax relief for seniors passed at the state level. Last year, Gov. Ted Strickland proposed a $25,000 tax break for senior and disabled property owners. Along with more activities and social services, Shealey would also like to see more programs that help senior residents live independently in their own homes, or that provide affordable new homes if they can no longer stay in their homes. “We need to give our seniors something to make sure their quality of life is maintained,” Shealey said. All that the councilman at large wants to accomplish requires a relationship with the ward representatives and the city administration. That’s why Shealey looks forward to more city and local government partnerships his position now affords him, “My number one responsibility is to represent the people of the city of Akron and to support and backup the ward council people,” Shealey said. “But my job does require more of a relationship with the administration and with the mayor’s cabinet. “After 30 years of coaching I’m a team player who believes in the team concept.”
Jim Shealey relishes the chance to make a better Akron as Council’s newest at large representative.