Best Of 2019

Best Political Drama, Local Division: City Manager Harry Black

Let’s face it, Cincinnati politics is always a little weird. But this past year was, to put it simply, just plain wild, man. First, there were dueling allegations about gender discrimination and overtime pay malfeasance in the Cincinnati Police Department. That led to the dismissal of a top CPD official by City Manager Harry Black on charges of insubordination. That, in turn, (are you still with us here?) led Mayor John Cranley to ask for Black’s resignation. But Black refused, leading to an unprecedented weeks-long standoff between the city manager, Cincinnati City Council and the mayor. Council, which needed to vote to fire Black, refused to do so before an investigation and also balked at the cost of a proposed severance package. Cranley wanted Black gone as soon as possible, saying that his request that Black resign came after years of complaints from city employees about intimidation and retaliation by the city manager. Black protested his treatment at the hands of Cranley, and his supporters on council and among African-American groups like the local NAACP said he was forced out. Prior to Cranley’s request that Black resign, the city manager said a small “rogue element” within CPD was working to undermine the police chief and the city’s Collaborative Agreement police reforms. Black denied he had done anything wrong, alleged the mayor was involved in shady development deals and held on for dear life until there were enough votes on council to usher him out the door. He resigned minutes before a Saturday special meeting of Cincinnati City Council could vote to fire him last spring. Black received eight month’s salary and benefits — a severance package worth about $274,000. Council’s vote ended the bizarre stalemate — but the incident sparked conversations about the city’s unusual form of government, which splits power between the mayor and city manager, as well as a debate about racial tensions within city government. Months later, ghosts from the standoff continue to float around. Texts between five Democratic council members about the situation and other city business were the subject of a lawsuit by conservative activists, who say they represent violations of Ohio’s open meetings laws. The entire incident didn’t exactly buttress public faith in City Hall, nor did a $101,000 settlement the city paid to settle the lawsuit or the harsh words a county judge had for council. Oh yeah, the release of 26,000 texts sent among council members — some of them insulting to others — probably didn’t help either.

Previous Winners