CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A power struggle at City Hall exploded Wednesday with City Manager Harry Black confidently telling reporters "I am here to stay" just before the mayor announced he asked Black to resign over a pattern of "abusive" and "retaliatory" behavior.
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said he will now build a case to council to remove the city manager he hired four years ago. If he stays, the mayor warned, consequences could be dire.
Cranley said he's repeatedly advised Black to change his behavior, which includes making late-night, abusive phone calls to employees and others. He's run out of patience and now feels the need to make the information public.
"I asked him to cease and desist certain behaviors. Unfortunately he did not heed those warnings and those behaviors are getting more and more egregious.
"Obvious this is tragic. It's sad," the mayor told reporters during his hastily-arranged news conference after Council held their first meeting since Cranley asked Black to resign on Friday.
"I've made no comments about this because I felt it was better for the city and for Harry to peacefully negotiate an outcome for his sake and the city's sake."
Cranley said those reasons, not the ouster of Executive Assistant Police Chief David Bailey, motivated him to ask Black for his resignation.
He said he he will ask employees and citizens to openly testify before Council about behaviors they have witnessed or experienced. Those who are afraid to come forward can submit statements.
Five city employees have sued the city and Black in recent months, the most recent case filed in federal court Tuesday.
Cranley said Black's behavior has hurt employee morale and he is "deeply worried" about Black's decision-making process.
As a result, he said, he was freezing personnel moves until the dispute with Black is resolved. He is worried about what the city manager will do if he stays in his current job.
Before the mayor spoke, Black also went before cameras to speak out about the controversy for the first time.
"I am not interested in settlement talks. I am here to stay," he told reporters gathered outside council chambers at City Hall.
"The forces that are out there are going to continue what they are doing. They will basically use innuendo, conjecture, greatly embellishing what might be factual as a means of tarnishing my character and my reputation.
"I am prepared to struggle through that, keep the city focused and working forward and we'll see what happens at the end of the day."
Later in the afternoon, a city spokesman released a statement from Black.
"First, I would like thank all of those who have made expressions of support. The response, while unsolicited, is surprising and overwhelming,:" it reads.
"I've continued to state that I intend to continue my service here as long as requested. I am proud of what we've accomplished and believe I continue to be in service here to fulfill a mission of optimizing and improving the operations of the City government.
"And over the past several years, we have had prolific success in fulfilling this mission. There is a lot more that we can do to help Cincinnati realize our full potential, which is boundless. I look forward to continuing to participate in this journey.
"However, let there be no mistake the next several weeks will be challenging in that it is common knowledge there are those who have specifically threatened to hurt me, via a smear campaign.
"Unfortunately, this now begins, and I expect will continue into the near future. You will hear and see things that will consist of untruths, innuendo, conjecture and are the product of significant embellishment of the fact(s).
"As regrettable as this reality is, I did not create it and am committed to pushing through the attacks and hope that the general public, and those who support me will explore the facts and make decisions based upon them. Our work is far from being done here and I intend to see it though."
Every single one of the more than dozen speakers who addressed council earlier in the day supported Black and urged city leaders to keep him.
Several of those who spoke said the public dispute over Black's employment had become an embarrassment and should end for the good of the city.
They described Black as hard-working, revolutionary, successful and courageous.
"Mayor Cranley, to you, what I am asking is that you put your ego aside," said Kelli Prather, a West Price Hill who unsuccessfully ran for City Council last fall.
Prather looked directly at Black and urged him: "You have to look out for the people who look out for you."
"Cincinnati is getting a history of kicking out black people or blaming them for something," one man told Council. "The city manger found some problems in the police department. That's what we should be investigating if that is true....Do something about the corruption, not the person who reported it."
Vice Mayor Chris Smitherman said he is in a "holding pattern" on whether he thinks Black should stay or go until he sees and hears all evidence the mayor gathers and presents.
"I will put the business of the city of Cincinnati before any personalities. Period. That's what I am elected to do. My job is to weigh all the information at this time that the mayor brings forward and then make the best informed decision I can for the citizens of Cincinnati, not based on who I like or power or trying to upstage something.
"This will be a public meeting for everyone in the city to listen to and weigh in on and then we will vote. And it's not like we haven't fired a city manager before. I am still hoping this will resolve itself in a different way. If it doesn't, then I'll do my job."
Councilman Wendell Young said Cranley is "grasping at straws."
"This is just more of the saga that John has created and won't let go. I don't know what it is he is going to come forward with. He very well could come forward with stuff we don't necessarily like, but it could be true," he said in an interview late Wednesday afternoon.
"But, in my opinion it has to be awfully strong to be grounds for dismissal.
"In his press conference John said he's reaching back over a period of years and coming forward with behaviors he finds egregious and asked (Black) to work on and now he's upset because, according to him, maybe Harry hasn't worked on those behaviors. My problem is if his behavior was so egregious that the wants us to dismiss him now, why wouldn't' he bring it up before and then come forward and say 'let's get rid of this guy.'"
"He said he isn't upset about Bailey but none of this came up until Bailey was dismissed. Strange timing."
"He keeps claiming that he supports the chief. That's just the old divide and conquer technique. How do you support the chief and not the city manager when the city manager followed the chief's recommendation to get rid of Bailey? So if you support the chief in that decision why are you mad at harry for getting rid of the guy?
"But I believe John is grasping at straws, continuing to show his immaturity and that he's not ready for prime. We haven't seen anybody act like this."
Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, wants to see Cranley try to work things out with Black.
He also questions whether the mayor can legally freeze personnel moves.
Those actions might violate the city's charter, said Thomas, who ran the city's Human Relations Commission 2001-2005, served on city council 2005-2013 and retired in 2000 as a Cincinnati police detective after 27 years with the agency.
"It appears that things are beginning to spiral out of control," Thomas said.
"The mayor, as the leader, has to have the wherewithal to realize that and reel things back in, if you will, to focus on moving our city forward instead of allowing this kind of rhetoric to continue."
The Sentinel Police Association, an organization that represents black Cincinnati police officers, held a news conference to support the city manager and the police chief.
Keeping Black now is important to keep moving forward with the Collaborative Agreement refresh, said the group's president, Officer Louis Arnold.
But the organization is not so sure about the mayor.
"For the city manager to be attacked for doing his job is the question we have," Arnold said in a news conference Wednesday night.
The group also said they support the city manager's claims there is a "rogue element" that is corrupt in the police department in an effort to undermine the chief's authority..
Arnold criticized the police union president, Sgt. Dan Hils, saying he "has divided many members of the FOP along racial lines. As the FOP president, his job is to represent every member of the FOP equally and he does not do that at all."
Late Wednesday, the police union president weighed in, describing Black as a "true divider."
"Divisive- Tending to cause disagreement or hostility between people," wrote Sgt. Dan Hils. "There are people calling me divisive, even some of my police brothers and sisters. I support their right to express their opinion. I know that I am not perfect, but my heart is not a divisive one, especially as it relates to my fellow officers.
"I know what is divisive. Divisive is an unsubstantiated accusation by the very top of city administration of there being a 'rogue element' in our police department. A rogue element motivated by race no less. A racist rogue element so serious that outside help is needed, yet no one from the outside is called.
"Members of our union have been accused of being dividers and even much worse. I stood with them not because of friendship or personal reward, but because it was the right thing to do.
"I have experienced the hostility of the 'true divider' first hand. From the looks of recently filed federal law suits, at least five other city employees have experienced the hostility of the "true divider" as well.
"The 'true divider" received an extremely generous offer to help Cincinnati move forward. The "true divider" instead will force council and the public to have hearings that will hurt and divide so many.
"The "true divider" will more than likely continue to collect law suits that will belong to the tax payers in the end. He will cost the city so much more than any buy out would cost. The "true divider" will have others throw stones as he watches the hostility grow, but it was never really his town. This town belongs to the citizens and its faithful employees and we will overcome the divisiveness he has created."