Confusion at City Hall: 'I have not made any decisions,' says city manager

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Did City Manager Harry Black agree to resign?

Depends who you ask as chaos and confusion erupted Tuesday amid a City Hall power struggle that began last week.

Mayor John Cranley announced just before 5 p.m. that he and City Manager Harry Black had "reached an agreement in principle" for Black to exit city service.

"The City and City Manager are working towards a mutually agreed upon departure agreement that will require Council approval," his statement reds.

"The Mayor and Manger expect that Council will act on this matter within one week.  We believe that the City's law department will present a settlement document to Council by Monday."

That isn't so, Black said, issuing his own statement contradicting that a short time later, about 6 p.m.

"I am currently in communication with the Mayor. We are having very productive discussions, however, as of this time, I, as city manager, have not made any decisions regarding matters that are currently being discussed in the media.

Any exit agreement would require majority council approval in a public vote. And so far, the votes are not there, according to at least two city councilmen, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young.

"I think the majority, in fact I know, the majority of council members want him to stay," Young said.

City Council is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. Wednesday, and the public input portion of the meeting, which begins at 1:30 p.m., is expected to see people speak out.

If Black does go, it will cost taxpayers six figures.

His annual salary is $261,283.56, and he would receive eight months salary on the date of termination, according to the 2014 ordinance that lays out the terms of his compensation in a severance clause.

City Hall sources tell FOX19 NOW Cranley offered Black a two-year severance agreement that would cost more and include insurance.

Reaction was swift and mostly from those who support the city manager, including several African-American leaders.

"This is such a mess, I really don't know how this will end," said Bishop Bobby Hilton, one of the Tri-State's most prominent civil rights leaders and president of the Greater Cincinnati National Action Network.

He issued a statement calling Tuesday's development and opposing statements from the mayor and city manager "troubling."

"City Manager Harry Black fired Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell," Hilton's statement reads. "We were concerned and questioned this.  Mayor John Cranley informed us that things happened inside CPD that we would not know.  We need to let the City Manager do his job.

"We submitted to this. Now the City Manager offers and receives an agreement from Asst. Police Chief, Dave Bailey to resign with a pretty nice package.

"We are troubled that we are not hearing the Mayor say let the City Manager do his job. Why is there such a great difference in reaction to the City Manager's decision? We cannot help but wonder, are Police Chief Eliot Isaac's days numbered? Was he simply window dressing when Chief Blackwell was fired? This is troubling!"

Councilwoman Amy Murray declined comment earlier this week and again Tuesday, saying she could talk Wednesday.

Some council members did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment, such as P.G. Sittenfeld, who already has announced he supports the city manager.

Others indicated they were trying to find out what was going on and would reserve comment until they had a better understanding of the facts.

Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman tweeted late Tuesday he was hopeful Cranley and Black had an agreement in principle.

On Monday, Smitherman said information has not been made public yet that prompted the mayor to ask the city manager to resign.

This all comes after several tense days last week at City Hall and in the upper command staff of the Cincinnati Police Department.

Cranley sought the city manager's resignation Friday after Black abruptly forced out the second highest-ranking police official, Executive Assistant Chief David Bailey, without consulting the mayor or council and without publicly stating why.

Black told the 31-year police veteran to leave or be fired, according to the police union president.

The city manager and the chief were upset after a draft of police overtime audit was leaked to the media Tuesday. It was the second leak of confidential police documents in the last 90 days, according to a memo from Police Chief Eliot Isaac to Black. The other leak involved a memo FOX19 NOW obtained in January about an ongoing internal investigation.

The audit revealed "intentional actions to maximize compensation" in the department.

Black was so upset about the leak, he called for federal prosecutors to investigate what he described as a "rogue element" that is corrupt in the police department in an effort to undermine the police chief's authority.

The city manager also claimed some police employees don't want to work with him and the chief because they are black and accused them of "insubordination."

It's not clear who Black was talking about.

But the mayor's statement Tuesday as he announced the two had reached "an agreement in principle" for Black to leave did not mention any of this, however.

Cranley's statement was positive and highlighted Black's accomplishments:

"Over the last 3.5 years it has been my pleasure to work collaboratively with Mr. Black in our efforts to stabilize the City's finances;—including the passage of three structurally balanced budgets and an upgraded credit rating—improve our ability to deliver basics services through the Office of Performance and Data Analytics," the mayor's statement reads, "and get our roads back to good through infrastructure investments. Assuming Council approves, I wish Mr. Black the best of luck in his future endeavors and I thank him for his service to the City of Cincinnati."

Young called for Cranley to give up what has so far been a failed quest to push Black out.

"I really think that this is John's call. John needs to cease and desist, accept that the city manager acted within the confines of what the charter allows him to do in personnel matters. You don't have to like it but he didn't do anything so egregious that it ought to cost him his job. If John backs away, the issue backs away."

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