A captain with the Cincinnati Police Department has filed a lawsuit against the city, saying that City Manager Harry Black inappropriately funneled city funds through a business owned by a close friend and, separately, used $800,000 in state and federal funds earmarked for emergency systems to improperly pay salaries and other expenses through the general budget.
Capt. Jeff Butler also says the city retaliated against him after he pointed out the ethical problems with the state 911 recovery funds and federal Homeland Security money earmarked for the city’s emergency call operations. Butler claims that after he raised issues with the way the city was spending money for the ECC, he was improperly denied a promotion to assistant chief and transferred from the city’s 911 department without notice.
Butler’s suit says that Black has been sending city contracts through a purchasing clearinghouse company called BFX, LLC, which is owned by Al Foxx, who worked with Black in Baltimore. Foxx later incorporated the company in Ohio about a year after Black took his job as city manager here. The city pays about 15 percent more than it needs to because of that practice, the lawsuit claims.
“Foxx was Public Works Director in Baltimore at the same time that Black was Baltimore’s Finance Director,” the lawsuit reads. “Black, Al Foxx, and Al Foxx’s wife are close friends. Black’s insistence that City purchases go through the clearing house owned by his close friend inappropriately enriches those friends to the detriment of Cincinnati taxpayers.”
Butler’s suit alleges Black and Assistant City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian engaged in abuse of power, violation of free speech rights, violation of substantive due process, violation of procedural due process and interference with business relations. He's asking that he be promoted to assistant chief and receive attorney’s fees and other monetary compensation. He’s also asking that the city bar Black from using funds earmarked for emergency response operations for other purposes.
Black dismissed the suit in a statement.
"I've spoken with the City Solicitor who is confident in their ability to defend the City against these frivolous claims, and so am I," Black said.
At a debate Sept. 12, Mayor John Cranley told media only that he had not seen the lawsuit yet.
Council members Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, Wendell Young and Charlie Winburn urged an investigation into the claims made in Butler’s suit, but stressed caution until more is known about the allegations.The Council members requested Black attend Council's next Budget and Finance Committee meeting and answer questions raised by the suit.
“When this comes before my committee, I will be fair and objective as these are just allegations,” committee chair Winburn said in a statement.