City Manager Harry Black resigns

Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black resigned today moments before a Cincinnati City Council vote to fire him. That vote came after Councilman Greg Landsman indicated he would flip and vote to dismiss Black.

Apr 21, 2018 at 9:59 am
click to enlarge Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black (left) with council members Jeff Pastor, Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black (left) with council members Jeff Pastor, Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld

Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black resigned effective noon today, just before a Cincinnati City Council vote to remove him from the job.

Black, who has been locked in a bitter battle with Mayor John Cranley since the mayor asked him to resign March 9, released a brief memo outlining his resignation moments before the vote. That memo ends by leaving open the possibility of legal action by Black.

"It has been my pleasure serving as city manager," Black wrote, praising the city's "many amenities" and public workforce. "I have made this decision based on the reality that the work environment has become very hostile, and as such untenable.Therefore, it is in my best interest to extricate myself, in that this hostility is unlikely to cease. In resigning, I am not surrendering any of my legal rights."

Black has protested his treatment at the hands of Cranley, and his supporters on council and among African American groups like the local NAACP say he's being forced out for firing Cincinnati Police Chief Dave Bailey, whom CPD Chief Eliot Isaac accused of insubordination. Prior to Cranley's request that Black resign, the city manager said a small "rogue element" within CPD was working to undermine the chief and the city's Collaborative Agreement police reforms.

Cranley, however, says that his request that Black resign came after years of complaints about intimidation and retaliation against city employees by the city manager.

The disagreement has led to a big fight between council and the mayor over whether Black should leave and how much he should receive if he does. Initially, Black would have gotten nothing if he resigned. The agreement today awards Black the standard severance package he would have gotten if he had been fired.

Per Black's contract, he will get eight months salary and benefits — a severance package worth about $274,000. That's less than an earlier settlement Black and Cranley had agreed upon worth $423,000 in pay and benefits. City Council declined to approve that package.

Five members of council present at this morning's special meeting voted to accept his resignation. Four — Tamaya Dennard, Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young — were absent from the proceedings. They had previously voted against a severance package for Black.

Assistant City Manager Patrick Duhaney will be acting city manager until a replacement can be found, a process that Cincinnati City Councilman Greg Landsman said will be a collaborative process.

Landsman was the fifth vote needed to oust Black from his position. He said yesterday that his decision to switch his vote was based on Black's response to the death of Kyle Plush, who called 911 twice while trapped in a van. The 16-year-old suffocated after officers could not locate him. A dispatcher on Plush's second call reported difficulty hearing him and seems to have not passed along information about his vehicle to officers.

The city's Emergency Communications Center has struggled with staffing and technology issues, according to a dozen memos released to Cincinnati City Council over the past few years. That seemed to suggest that the problems leading to Plush's death originated in the call center.

But body camera footage released last week revealed that Cincinnati Police officers did not get out of their cruiser when searching for Plush, suggesting the majority of the problem may not have been the call center.

Beyond Plush's death, Landsman has said that the problems in the call center are numerous and need to be the city's top priority. He felt Black wasn't being proactive enough in the wake of new attention focused on the problems there, and that the standoff in City Hall was making governing difficult.

"This has to be a turning point for us," Landsman said. "This can't just be a moment in time. We have got to change. The mayor is going to have to change. Council is going to have to change. We're going to have to get laser focused on the big issues, especially fixing our 911 call center.

"I think when you have a level of dysfunction and chaos like we've had over the past few weeks, it's on all of us, myself included," he continued. "But obviously the situation between the manager and mayor was a huge part of it."

Following the vote, Cranley announced he and acting City Manager Duhaney will tour the city's Emergency Call Center.

Some, including his opponents on council, have offered pointed criticism of the mayor's handling of the situation. But Cranley defended his actions and his tone over the length of the fight between himself and Black, saying he was fighting to protect city workers he says Black intimidated.

"I'm a work in progress, so I will always strive for greater cooperation and collaboration with city council," Cranley said. "But let me be clear, I was standing up for city workers against retaliation that was ongoing, even this week.I think the actions had to be taken for the good of the city."