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Akron can't hire police, fire chiefs from outside. Voters might get to change that

Acting Police Chief Brian Harding (left) addresses a question during a community forum hosted by Mayor Shammas Malik (right) April 23, 2024.
Anna Huntsman
/
Ideastream Public Media
Then-acting Police Chief Brian Harding (left) addresses a question during a community forum hosted by Mayor Shammas Malik (right) April 23, 2024.

Akron officials are considering changing the city charter to allow the mayor to hire external candidates for police and fire chiefs.

The proposal stems from the city's search for a police chief earlier this year, in which Mayor Shammas Malik decided to consider only internal candidatesdue to a state law that he believes prohibits external hires.

Malik submitted legislation to Akron City Council Monday that, if approved, would allow a charter amendment to go before voters in November.

“During the City's most recent search for the Chief of Police, the City identified a legal prohibition against selecting an outside candidate and determined that only a limited number of individuals in the immediate below rank were eligible to be promoted into the Chief and Deputy Chief positions,” officials wrote in the legislation introduced to Akron City Council Monday. “A similar issue exists with respect to the Chief and Deputy Chiefs in the Akron Fire Department.”

The Ohio Revised Code Section 124.44 states: "No positions above the rank of patrol officer in the police department shall be filled by original appointment. Vacancies in positions above the rank of patrol officer in a police department shall be filled by promotion from among persons holding positions in a rank lower than the position to be filled."

Citing this statute, Malik also said he could not consider a candidate who held a less senior position if both deputy chiefs, the two highest-ranking officers in the department, applied. One of them, Brian Harding, was eventually selected as police chiefin May.

Harding and Deputy Chief Jesse Leeser, who are both white, applied.

Some Black elected officials and the Akron NAACP criticized Malik’s position due to the lack of diverse candidates.

The legislation introduced Monday would also clear the mayor to hire externally for the positions of deputy chiefs.

The proposal would amend Section 68 and 70 of the city’s charter, which describe the process for hiring police and fire chiefs, respectively.

The charter amendment explicitly states the mayor can appoint “from either internal or external candidates,” according to the legislation.

“To ensure the strongest possible candidates for the positions of chief of police and deputy chiefs of police, both current employees and external candidates shall be eligible for selection regardless of rank or years of service, subject to the minimum qualifications as may be established from time to time by the director of human resources,” the proposed amendment states.

City officials will give a presentation about the charter amendment to city council during its next meeting on Monday, July 15, said Malik’s chief of strategy, Nanette Pitt. They will also start a “public awareness campaign” to inform residents about the proposal, she said.

Council is expected to take a vote at the end of the month before its August break.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.