Council majority: special counsel needed for Black/Cranley rift

Five democrats on Cincinnati City Council want the city to hire an independent counsel to investigate claims and counter-claims in an ongoing impasse between Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black.

A majority of Cincinnati City Council 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, all Democrats, released a statement this afternoon 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.

Last Friday, Cranley asked Black to resign. Black refused. That tug-of-war came 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.

In its letter today, 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.

The rift went nuclear this 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. 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.

A statement released earlier today by Vice Mayor David Mann says that there is no other solution besides Black leaving. 

According to Mann's statement, Black wants to leave, but Cranley can't get five votes on council to dismiss him due to monetary severance stipulations in his contract. If Black resigns of his own accord, he forfeits any severance.

"My democratic colleagues will not support (2) or (3)," Mann wrote of possible severance pay scenarios. "Mr. Black could resign at considerable financial sacrifice. Otherwise, the current dysfunction continues, indefinitely I suppose."

Today's statement by the five council members seems to confirm they will not vote for a monetary severance package.

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

While an investigation goes forward, the council majority suggests that Cranley and Black find a way to work together and not talk about the situation. In their statement, the group suggests a pro-bono mediator to help toward that end.

The statement calls for caution in regard to Cranley's proposal that city employees testify before council about the city manager.

"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 the time, date, and location of such a special meeting," the statement reads. "Because of the significant interest from concerned members of the community, such a specially-called meeting would occur in the evening, be held out in the community, and be posted with at least two weeks notice to the public.

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


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