A former superintendent of the City of Cincinnati’s Public Works Department today filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging he was fired for highlighting waste of tax dollars related to the use of third-party contractors.
City Manager Harry Black is named in the lawsuit. The suit by Gary Colorez, hired in June this year and fired Sept. 8, is the third lawsuit against Black claiming he has engaged in retaliatory behavior. Attorney Brian Gillan is representing the plaintiffs in all three of those suits.
Black and the city solicitor’s office have called those past suits “frivolous” and “false.” The city says Colorez was fired for inappropriate behavior and failure to perform his job.
"Mr. Colorez’s complaint contains numerous allegations that are either false, contain half-truths, or demonstrate a lack of knowledge about the City and the Public Services Department," Terry Nestor, representing the city's law department, said in a statement. "The City categorically denies any allegation of inappropriate contracting or overpayment. The business decision to terminate Mr. Colorez was not related to any of the allegations in this version of a now repetitive set of unproven allegations."
Colorez says in his suit that he attempted to highlight and rectify multiple situations in which taxpayer dollars were being wasted or misspent. Those included situations in which Colorez claims that vendors like Contract Sweepers, who have a $880,000 contract with the city, were not sweeping downtown streets when they were supposed to.
Another vendor, Greenspace, was getting paid to mow lots they did not mow, Colorez claims, and were overcharging the city for lot abatements they were doing. In the suit, Colorez says he began refusing to sign payment orders on those contracts and says he told his supervisor, Director of Public Services Maraskeshia Smith, that he could use city crews to do both of these jobs for less money, estimating the city could save $500,000 on the street sweeping alone. Colorez also says he challenged the city’s use of purchasing clearinghouse BFX, LLC, which he says is owned by a close friend of Black’s named Al Foxx.
Colorez says he was fired for these efforts.
“In short, Mr. Colorez made it well known within the City administration that he was relentlessly seeking answers as to why the City was using third-party vendors to perform these (and other) services given that the City costs had risen by 100% to 200% with this approach,” the lawsuit reads. “Following (and as a direct result of) these complaints and initiatives by Mr. Colorez, Mrs. Smith fired him. Mr. Colorez’s termination had been approved by City Manager Harry Black. Mr. Colorez’s termination was in retaliation for the complaints he raised regarding the waste of taxpayer funds he had identified, and the fraud being perpetrated on the City by certain vendors, and on the taxpayers of Cincinnati by certain of their elected and appointed officials.”
BFX has come up in another recent lawsuit against the city alleging similar misconduct filed by Cincinnati Police Captain Jeff Butler. According to that suit, Foxx used to work with Black when the former worked for the City of Baltimore. According to Butler’s suit, the city pays the company an unnecessary 15 percent markup. The city denies that.
Black has said that he had no say in the contract awarded to BFX, which the city manager has said came as part of a pilot program for awarding contracts to minority-owned businesses. Those contracts are not put out to bid.
"I had zero contact with either of these firms,'' Black told Cincinnati City Council Sept. 27. "I had absolutely nothing to do with this."
Butler filed his suit Sept. 12 alleging he was passed over for promotions because he highlighted misuse of funds meant for the city’s Emergency Call Center within the department. Butler has had brushes with controversy in the past — he allegedly used a racial slur during an internal interview in 1999. A recording of that interview came to light in 2004. Butler says he didn't use a racial epithet, though some audio experts say he probably did. An internal CPD investigation found the recording "inconclusive," however. Butler amended his lawsuit Oct. 1, accusing Black and Mayor John Cranley of defaming him for bringing up that episode and making other criticisms of him.
Another lawsuit by Cincinnati Fire Department District Chief Raffel Prophett filed Oct. 23 claims he was passed over for promotions due to his efforts to flag wrongdoing within the department. The city has also denied allegations contained in that suit.