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Summit County "State of the County Speech"

On Thursday, August 30th, we attended Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro's "State of the County" address that took at noon at the "John S. Knight Center" on South Mill Street in Akron. It was presented by the "Akron Press Club".

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(for a biography of Executive Shapiro please see https://co.summitoh.net/index.php/executive/executive)

Needless to say the banquet hall was packed but we were quite fortunate to share a table with Ms. Patricia Smoot Wicks of "PATHworks!" (see www.pathworksohio.com) who does a lot of work with "Asian Services in Action"; and Mr. Ron Syroid, a longtime member of the "Akron Press Club" who gave us his own copy of Executive Shapiro's speech so that we wouldn't be overwhelmed by having to take notes; and Ms. Jenee Garlando, Senior Development Officer with the "Akron Art Museum" who saved our seat and volunteered to request a vegetarian lunch for us while we were networking at the other tables.

Among those that we networked with was Mayor Don Walters of Cuyahoga Falls who said that his city, especially the housing market, has benefited from the Bhutanese refugees who have re-settled there after initially living in Pittsburgh and Dallas upon their arrival in the United States. Mayor Walters said the most important thing is to keep a community dialogue going that involves all residents so that cultural issues can be worked out. 

Considering the fact that the "State of the County" took approximately an hour to deliver, we were most grateful to Mr. Syroid who provided us with a copy. To be sure, the speech was very comprehensive and covered such subjects as economic development, education, employment, state and federal funding assistance, taxation, and law enforcement.

The topic of inclusivity is of particular interest to us so we were pleased when Executive Shapiro said that, "I am proud that the County often times plays the role of bringing together diverse people in order to find creative solutions to the problems we face. However, for us to truly accomplish that mission, it is important that the County government itself be more inclusive and representative of all the people of Summit County."

She went on to discuss the recent formation of the "Summit County Executive's Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion" which has "developed recommendations for change" and within the next few months will reveal "new and improved solutions to implement the recommendations."

Furthermore, Executive Shapiro proudly said that "I can stand here and proudly tell you that the of the new hires and promotions to unclassified management and at-will jobs, 44% have been women, 33% have been people of color, and 11% have been people who identify as LGBTQ. Additionally, as I appoint 54 boards and commissions, 42% of those new appointments have been people of color. We all know that when our community sees themselves in my staff and on important community boards, we all feel connected. When people feel heard and represented, it is a huge step forward for all of us."

During the Q and A, we submitted a written request for Executive Shapiro to briefly talk about the impact of the refugees and immigrants who have recently settled in Summit County after journeying here from such countries as Bhutan, Uzbekistan, Syria and Iraq.

Executive Shapiro said that in her opinion the impact has been positively "amazing" and expressed her admiration for foreign-born people who have risked to come here in search of a better life, particularly those who have come from "horrendous backgrounds" in the homelands.

She mentioned that the presence of immigrants and refugees has been great for the area in terms of both diversity and the economy. Along these lines, quite a few restaurants have been opened which allow the people of Summit County to have excellent dining and multicultural experiences.

(to read an article about the Akron/Summit County Strategic Welcome plan regarding immigrants and refugees, please see https://www.cleveland.com/akron/index.ssf/2017/10/akron_summit_county_release_we.html)

As for the controversy that is taking place nationally regarding our immigration policy, Executive Shapiro urged us to contact our federal representatives and speak out loudly on behalf of not building barriers but breaking them down.

Justin Faulhaber