Black agrees to settlement, but council majority still opposed

After a stalemate with Mayor John Cranley, Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black is ready to take a severance package worth more than $420,000 to leave his position. But some council members say they won't sign off on it.

City Manager Harry Black and Mayor John Cranley - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
City Manager Harry Black and Mayor John Cranley

After two weeks of turbulence, including an all-out standoff with Mayor John Cranley, City Manager Harry Black agreed to a settlement to leave his position March 17.

“Earlier today Mayor Cranley and I executed an amicable and mutually acceptable settlement, which is in the best interest of the City,” Black wrote in a statement. “I believe it is a fair agreement. I am hopeful that 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.

But a majority of Cincinnati City Council, which must approve Black’s settlement, still opposes Black’s monetary severance package and his departure.

Following Black’s statement, the group released their own on March 18 saying they would not vote to approve Black’s settlement, which will cost more than $420,000, provide 18 months of medical benefits and include a letter of recommendation from Cranley. Other members of council — Democrat David Mann, Republicans Amy Murray and Jeff Pastor and independent Christopher Smitherman — support the settlement, at least as a means to ending the grinding crisis within City Hall.

"It's less expensive for the taxpayers of Cincinnati than if we drag this out for several weeks and go thru mediation," Councilwoman Amy Murray said during a council committee meeting today, which passed the severance package. Murray worried that mediation could end up not fixing the problems.

Previously, the group of Democrats has called for a "cease fire" between Mayor John Cranley and embattled City Manager Harry Black while an independent investigation into claims the two have lobbed back and forth is conducted.

Council members Tamaya Dennard, Greg Landsman, Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young released a statement March 16 suggesting that council appoint an independent special counsel to look into claims by Cranley that Black has created a hostile workplace for city employees and has behaved inappropriately. They would also like that counsel to look into claims that Black is being forced out of his job unfairly and suggestions by Black himself that a "rogue element" within the Cincinnati Police Department has been working to oust Chief Eliot Isaac.

That tug-of-war comes after a tumultuous run of days saw a gender discrimination complaint filed by a high-ranking female Cincinnati police officer, the leak of an allegedly-unfinished CPD overtime audit, Black's dismissal of CPD assistant chief David Bailey (with a $400,000 payout to effectively be on leave until he retires) and the city's manager's subsequent assertions that Bailey and other officers were working to undermine chief Isaac due to racial bias.

Cranley asked Black to resign March 9. Black initially refused.

In its March 16 statement, the council majority acknowledged concerns by the Greater Cincinnati NAACP, the Black United Front and other African American groups that Black is being railroaded, but also said a thorough review of claims swirling around the controversy is needed.

"People have to understand this situation is bigger than City Manager Harry Black," Dennard wrote March 19. "This is also about the culture of the Cincinnati Police Department that treats black officers different than white officers and an unwillingness by our city government to address it. There are also people within our police department who don't want to be a part of the Collaborative Agreement. They want to go back to doing business the way they used to and not having any accountability for their policing methods."

"The Fraternal Order of Police can't run our city," she continued.

The rift went nuclear last week as Cranley outlined alleged complaints of misconduct against Black from city employees, promised a written report about that misconduct and moved to bring public testimony from those employees before council.

“I advised him to cease and desist certain behaviors," Cranley told reporters gathered in his office after the March 14 Cincinnati City Council meeting. "Those behaviors are resurfacing and getting more egregious. I feel in good conscience I need to share this with council to decide how to move forward with the city."

All of that will be to show council that it must vote to remove Black, Cranley said. He asked Black not to make any personnel decisions as the review process he outlined proceeds over the next two weeks.

Among the ammunition Cranley has — a visit to a strip club Black, Eliot, Bailey and assistant chief Paul Neudigate took two years ago in Denver during a city trip. Cranley and Black's versions of that visit differ — Cranley claims Black invited City Solicitor Paula Boggs-Muething on the outing and bragged about it to her and the mayor afterward. Black denies this. Cranley knew about the visit at the time, but did not mention it until recently.

Following the tangled intrigue, council wants an investigation — and doesn’t want to pay for Black’s departure.

"We also do not support forcing taxpayers to pay out of their own pockets for what is currently a broken relationship," council majority's March 16 statement reads. "We believe there are much better immediate next steps."

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