News: Heads Won't Roll

Instead city manager gets an extra $70K

May 10, 2001 at 2:06 pm
City Manager John Shirey survived the riots and gets $70,000 in walking-around money.

The day before he declared a state of emergency, Mayor Charlie Luken called for "fundamental change" in Cincinnati. But given his first opportunity to change the way the city works — by firing City Manager John Shirey — Luken backed down.

Instead of firing the city manager, Luken last week led the charge to keep him on duty another seven months and then give him $70,000 as a going-away present.

At the May 2 meeting, council voted 5-4 to accept Shirey's resignation, effective Dec. 1 The move, introduced by Luken, cut off at the pass Councilman Jim Tarbell's proposal to immediately fire Shirey.

Luken's maneuver incensed Tarbell, who thought — judging by statements from Luken and others — he had enough support to carry out Shirey's firing. Tarbell was as angry as he's ever been at a council meeting. He chided Luken for proposing the resignation in order to block a simple up-or-down vote on Shirey, which Tarbell had been working on for two weeks.

In conversations about problems with city leadership, according to Tarbell, Luken encouraged the effort to fire Shirey. But Luken said he had a different recollection of their conversations. Shirey's resignation is the best thing for the city, with an opportunity to phase in a new city manager, Luken said.

Tarbell said he never would have proposed the firing, unless he believed he had the support to carry it out. Luken accused Tarbell of the uncivil behavior he often criticizes citizens for exhibiting during council meetings. Tarbell was livid, saying the whole affair was just a political maneuver by Luken.

"It's about the mayor doing whatever he wants to do to get whatever he wants," Tarbell said. "It has nothing to do with vision, courage and conviction. (Luken) is very clever. But cleverness has nothing to do with vision, courage and conviction."

The terms of the resignation guarantee Shirey a good reference from Luken and include an agreement he and council will refrain from "unprofessional" comments about each other.

Luken wasn't the only councilmember to change positions, Tarbell said. He blasted Councilman Pat DeWine for jumping ship and supporting the resignation, despite repeatedly saying Shirey should be fired. DeWine said it was a very difficult decision, but he is satisfied Shirey will be leaving.

Councilmembers Alicia Reece, John Cranley and Paul Booth also voted to let Shirey resign.

Some councilmembers say Luken's gambit to keep Shirey through Dec. 1 did nothing but enshrine the status quo, because Luken would have fired Shirey after becoming "strong mayor" in the November election.

"The decision today, in my opinion, didn't do anything," said Councilman Phil Heimlich. "In my mind, there was never a doubt (Shirey would leave) ... He's a survivor, but assuming the newly elected mayor is interested in a top-flight executive to lead the city, there's no doubt in my mind he would have chosen someone else."

Councilman Paul Booth believed the new strong-mayor position and the post-riot call for change put Shirey on shaky ground.

"I think there was no question it was inevitable," Booth said.

But DeWine was not convinced. Since his election in 1999, DeWine has said he wanted to fire Shirey, in part because of the city's poor record of economic development.

"What's been conspicuously absent is a statement from the mayor that he would get rid of the manager after the election," DeWine said.

Reece also said she didn't believe Shirey would be let go after November.

"I don't think it was guaranteed," Reece said.

The deal with Shirey marks the second major city official given a break following the riots in Over-the-Rhine. Safety Director Kent Ryan resigned his post, citing health problems, but Shirey kept him on the city payroll for another assignment. ©