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African American leaders back embattled City Manager Black

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By Dan Yount

The Cincinnati Herald

Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black, shown at the podium at one of the numerous events he attends, has been asked by Mayor John Cranley, at left, to resign. Photo provided

Mayor John Cranley wants him to resign. City Manager Harry Black says he is still on the job and negotiating with the mayor. That was the status of the situation involving the man the mayor appointed four years ago to handle city operations as of Wednesday, following a week of confusing reports after Cranley had asked Black to leave his position.

On Tuesday, Cranley’s office released a statement saying, “Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Black have reached an agreement in principal for the city manager to exit City service. The City and city manager are working toward a mutually agreed upon departure agreement that will require Council approval.’’

But Black issued his own statement, saying, “We are having very productive discussions. However, as of this time, I, as city manager, have not made any decisions regarding matters that are currently being discussed in the media.’’

The matter could reach City Council level Wednesday afternoon, and it has been reported that Cranley does not have the votes to fire Black.

Local African American leaders last Saturday rallied to support Black, whom Cranley asked to resign after Black on March 8 abruptly forced out Executive Assistant Police Chief David Bailey, who was a 31-year veteran with the department. Black reportedly told Bailey to leave or be fired, and then reportedly settled with Bailey for $400,000 without consulting or explaining it first to the City Council.

In a whirlwind of events surrounding Black that began with a leak to the press that a police department audit revealed millions of dollars spent in overtime and found “intentional actions to maximize compensation” in the department, Black reportedly has called for federal prosecutors to investigate what he described as a “rogue element” that is corrupt in the police department in an effort to undermine the police chief’s authority.

He also claimed some police employees don’t want to work with him and the chief because they are Black and accused them of “insubordination,” allegations that Dan Hils, president of the local police union says are unfounded.

The city’s African American leadership issued a statement early Saturday. It was issued by Councilman Wendell Young, State Senator Cecil Thomas, the Sentinel Police Association, Cincinnati NAACP, Greater Cincinnati National Action Network, Cincinnati Black United Front and Black Agenda.

Their statement follows:

“The City of Cincinnati has a charter form of government with certain powers
granted to the city manager. In the charter, Article IV-(2) states, ‘Neither the
mayor, the council nor any of its committees or members shall interfere in any
way with the appointment or removal of any of the officers and employees in the
administrative service.” Article IV (3) provides for the city manager “to make all
appointments and removals in the administrative and executive service …’

“We support City Manager Harry Black and Chief of Police Eliot Isaac in the
performance of their duties in accordance with the City Charter. That being said, by virtue of his position-City Manager Black was well within the exclusive
authority of his position with the personnel decision he made regarding Assistant
Chief Bailey. According to multiple media reports, Mayor Cranley has allegedly
asked for the resignation of City Manager Harry Black, and it has become
apparent with the nasty media attacks that there are attempts to besmirch and
defame the city manager. A smear campaign on the part of Mayor Cranley is
unprofessional and beneath the dignity of the office.

“The deeper issue is the internal improprieties that have taken place inside of the
 Cincinnati Police Department and the culture that currently exists, with
individuals trying to subvert the chief and undermine the city manager, by
leaking internal documents to the media. This is about accountability and
integrity.

“This comes at a time when we are in the middle of the collaborative refresh
negotiations and a removal of the city manager will be detrimental to this
process. As we move forward, we ask that the media to be judicious in their
coverage, as we collectively search for the truth.’’

The leadership that issued this statement was at odds with Black after he abruptly fired former police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell in 2015, citing low morale in the police department. The firing of Blackwell, who was popular in the African American communities, was later changed to a ”termination’’ to avoid a lawsuit being filed against the city.

City Manager Harry Black recently addressed a Cincinnati Police Academy recruit class. Photo provided

Councilmember Wendell Young said the city just gave Black a raise and praised him for doing a good job. Black’s salary now $261,283.

Cranley’s office on Saturday issued a statement affirming his support of the police chief, but did not mention the city manager.

“Mayor Cranley is out of town for a special meeting of the US Conference of mayors, but I can confirm he fully supports Chief Isaac and always has. Last evening, the mayor and Chief Isaac spoke and both acknowledged that they’ve had a mutually supportive relationship for years and that both are committed to the same going forward,’’ Cranley’s aide stated.

Cranley has recently been named the chair of the Police Chiefs and Mayors Task Force for the US Conference of Mayors.  He and Isaac have been working together organizing a meeting of the task force April 9-10, at which time they will be at the conference presenting a session about “Cincinnati’s wonderful record of community policing,’’ according to the statement.

Black is Cincinnati’s fifteenth city manager, and the fourth African American to serve in that position, following Sylvester Murray, Valerie Lemme and Dohoney.

Cranley hired Black, the former chief financial officer the city of Baltimore, in 2014, shortly after Cranley was elected to a first term. He replaced Milton Dohoney Jr., former Mayor Mark Mallory’s pick to manage the city. Cranley said he decided to hire Black when Black told him that the buck stops with him (Black).

Before serving in Baltimore, Black co-managed Global Commerce Solutions Inc., a government services company he cofounded. He has worked at various positions in departments of the City of New York, N.Y., and in Washington, D.C, and Richmond, Virginia.

Black, said in a 2017 interview with this reporter that he is “big on self accountability,’’ and his goal in taking the position here was to make Cincinnati the best managed City in the country.

“I am proud to be working in an area that allows me to optimize my talents, especially in municipal government, by integrating sound labor management practices, which can be done through performance and data analytics,’’ he said. In fact, he has written an article about this topic titled “The Cincinnati Story’’ in the June 2017 issue of Government Finance Review.

One of his first initiatives here was to develop an Office of Performance and Data Analytics (OPDA) approved by the Council in October 2014 and bringing on board a chief performance and chief data officer. By May 2015, the City had built a state-of-the-art facility to house this new office. Over time the new OPDA has improved quality of customer service, increased accountability, reduced turnaround times, produced cost reductions, enhanced revenue, improved transparency, optimized performance, stimulated economic activity, and increased goodwill, he said.

The City has achieved an initial 7 percent increase in average overall customer satisfaction due to these initiatives, Black said. City employees have passionately embraced the new way the City does business, he said.

Following initial meetings here with more than 180 business, neighborhood and religious leaders, Black said it was clear that Cincinnati was ripe for performance and data analytics.

“Everyone who took part in these discussions shared a desire for an effective, efficient, and responsive city government to improve customer service; be more responsive; improve economic inclusion; overcome infrastructure challenges; reinvent the City’s permitting process; and enhance safety,’’ he said. Thus Black had his marching orders from the community.

“Good government is about our customers, making them proud of their government, and proving government can work for them. The last three years in Cincinnati have been the most productive of my career,’’ he said. “Also, the world is taking note of the good things occurring in Cincinnati.’’

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