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Mayor, city manager dispute in Council’s hands

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By Dan Yount

The Cincinnati Herald

Mayor John Cranley speaks with reporters following the City Council meeting on Wednesday about his decision to ask City Manager Harry Black to resign. Photo provided

A majority on the Cincinnati City Council appeared ready on Wednesday afternoon to reject an agreement between Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black for Black to resign and walk away with a $400,000 plus settlement following a bitter dispute between the city’s two top officials.

Black released a statement on March 17 informing the media that he and Cranley had “executed an amicable and mutually acceptable settlement, which is in the best interest of the City.’’

City Manager Harry Black responded to the mayor’s press conference, saying he’s staying on the job, but has since agreed to resign. Photo provided

He stated he thought it a fair agreement, and was hopeful all members of City Council will immediately voice their support, “so that this very painful week of tumult and chaos for the City–and me personally–can come to an end.’

However, in a statement released by the Democrats on council who call themselves the “Council Majority,” they planned to reject the settlement because of the expense involved and encourage the two men to get along and proceed with the city’s business. They also call for a special counsel to investigate the matter.

The statement was issued last week and is signed by council members Tamaya Dennard, P.G. Sittenfeld, Greg Landsman, Wendell Young and Chris Seelbach.

Their comments follow:

“We have watched this unfortunate saga unfold in recent days, and feel strongly that it is now on us-the Council Majority-to bring order and a fair process to this situation.

“We also believe strongly in due process. No one’s name or reputation should be tarnished without there being clear evidence.

“We share the serious concern of organizations like the Urban League, Community Action Agency, NAACP, Black Agenda, National Action Network, Black United Front, and others that present behavior is rolling back the clock on race relations in Cincinnati; we will not abet the intentional denigration of another Black leader in our community.

“We also do not support forcing the taxpayers to pay out of their own pockets for what is currently a broken relationship. We believe there are much better immediate next steps.

“First, this situation clearly must be de-politicized and taken out of the hands of those most directly in the fog of war. Therefore, we are calling for the appointment of an outside special counsel (appointed by a majority of City Council), to collect and investigate the concerns raised by the mayor, any and all counter-factuals from the city manager, and testimony from city employees or any other directly involved stakeholders. This special counsel will then write a report to be submitted to City Council for our review.

“At the same time, we are calling for a ceasefire between the mayor and city manager, during which they both agree to say nothing more on the subject and to focus on the city’s work. During this ceasefire, council will bring in a pro bono mediator to privately help the mayor and manager navigate their relationship and return to getting things done for the citizens of Cincinnati. Lastly, during this ceasefire, we call for no personnel changes.

“Council will control this process as it unfolds, and if the need and desire for what the mayor has called a ‘public trial’ remains, then council will control (this process).

“We look forward to cool heads prevailing, these issues being properly addressed, and everyone getting back to work for the city we love.’’

Councilman Wendell Young said prior to Wednesday’s meeting that due to the Council Majority’s position Black’s job was “bulletproof,’’ in that he had the backing of the majority of the council members if he wants to continue as city manager.

“There is another way to make this go away,’’ Young said, “and that is for Cranley to drop this and get back to being mayor. If he stops this, it all goes away.’’

Young said no one should dismiss a person for doing his job, and the attacks Cranley has made on Black are beneath the dignity of the mayor’s office.

“So Cranley says he feels Black is rude, mistreats employees and is sometimes dismissive of people,’’ Young said. “Conversely, this is the same behavior some people say Cranley is guilty of.’’

All of this follows what appeared to be an impasse between Cranley and Black following presses conferences after the March 14 council meeting.

In a press conference in the mayor’s office at that time, Cranley said he felt it was time to publicly share his reasons for asking Black to resign, saying, “I believe the city manager needs to separate himself from city service due to a pattern of behavior that has been abusive, threatening, unprofessional and inappropriate. It covers several years, and previous sessions I have had with him about this and in advising him, that behavior has been repeated and is getting more frequent. I am concerned about protecting city employees (from this).’’

Cranley said he is “very worried’’ that city employees could suffer from retaliations in testifying against Black. Employees and citizens both have been wrongly treated by Black, he said.

Cranley called it a sad day for the city and for Black, and that he had hoped to peacefully settle the situation involving Black’s exit from the city. Instead, in facing Black’s refusal to step down, Cranley said he would prepare a written report with exhibits and statements, even including public testimony, for council members to review. Until the issue is resolved, he asked all city departments to postpone any personnel options.

“The public deserves the truth, and it is time to go public,’’ he said of the situation.

Black, who spoke after Cranley’s press conference, said he is not stepping down, saying Cranley’s request of him “is unfortunate, reckless, but not surprising, He (Cranley) wants to be a strong mayor, and I am in the way.’’

Black said, “How can one accuse someone else of the very behavior they exhibit on a regular basis themselves,’’ in referring to Cranley.

Cranley said a number of positive things have occurred in the city under Black’s leadership in the nearly 4 years he has been city manager, but “the Council has not seen nor heard the evidence concerning his pattern of abuse.’’

Cranley said, “He’s promised to change, and I believe in second, third and fourth chances. But his behavior continues, and I am worried about the substance of his decisions, especially the 911 Call Center, where issues of life and death are involved.’’

Cranley said the City Council has to take accountability for these actions, and the councilmembers should be as worried as he is about the morale of city’s work force, noting that employees are continually coming to him about abusive behavior on the part of the city manager.

Cranley said his effort to remove Black has nothing to do with Black’s firing of Assistant Police Chief David Bailey that occurred just prior to Cranley’s resignation request. He also has not received information of “rogue elements’’ in the police department that Black said were working against him because he is African American.

At the council’s public comment session Wednesday, citizens supported Black and asked that “Cranley put his ego in his pocket,’’ work things out with Black, and move on with the city’s business.

Freeman McNeal, who supported Black, said, “Yes, racism is rampant in the police department.’’

Black said in his March 19 statement that his time as city manager has been a “tremendously rewarding” professional experience.

“I have been very privileged to be part of the many recent successes in Cincinnati during my tenure,’’ he said.  Also, on a personal level the past four years have been a wonderful time for me and my family as we have made this city our home. I look forward to moving onto the next phase of my life and doing that here in Cincinnati.

“Thank you to everyone in the past week who has privately and publicly expressed their support of me.  I am eternally grateful.’’

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