City manager accused of running city purchases through pal's company, he claims lawsuit 'frivolous'

Updated: Sep. 12, 2017 at 5:26 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A disgruntled Cincinnati police captain claims City Manager Harry Black is running city purchases through a company run by his friend, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

According to court documents, Black insisted city purchases go through a purchasing clearing house, BFX, LLC., requiring a 15 percent mark-up. BFX, LLC was incorporated by Al Foxx, who was Public Works Director in Baltimore when Black was the city's Finance Director.

The lawsuit claims: "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."

Cincinnati Police Capt. Jeff Butler claims Black and others, including Assistant City Manager Shelia Hill-Christian, are involved in a conspiracy "to retaliate against Captain Butler for challenging their blatant misuse of state tax funds which should have been utilized for emergency services and instead were unlawfully utilized for general Cincinnati budget purposes."

Butler was in charge of the city's 911 emergency communication center since January 3, 2016 but claims he was stripped of his managerial duties "with virtually no notice" on January 1, 2017.

Butler claims Black also misused federal Homeland Security grant money.

The lawsuit claims: "City Manager Black's abusive behavior toward (Butler) is merely one example of his pattern and practice of misuse of funds, abuse of power and retaliation against law enforcement officers who challenge Black's unlawful behavior."

According to the lawsuit, Butler is seeking to be made an assistant chief and be compensated for lost wages and benefits along with compensatory damages for "emotional distress."

Black claims this is a frivolous lawsuit.

"I am very confident in our law department will prevail in a very successful fashion," Black said.

He called Butler a disgruntled employee who was not successful in becoming an assistant chief.

He says his friend, Foxx, has no equity interest in BFX, LLC.

"This essentially boils down to a personnel matter, involving an  unhappy employee. I'm obviously disappointed it was filed. 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.

City Solicitor Paula Boggs Meuthing released the following statement:

"In 2001, the people of Cincinnati amended the City Charter to make the rank of assistant police chief unclassified and exempt from civil service.  Captain Jeff Butler is dissatisfied that he was not selected by the current City Manager for this important management position in the police force.  The City's law department will defend the City's Charter mandated selection process and the City is confident that it will prevail in the lawsuit filed by Captain Butler.  In the meantime, the lawsuit will progress in federal court according to the regular legal process and the City's comments will be limited to its court filings."

Some members of City Council have asked Black to attend the next regularly schedule Budget and Finance meeting for the benefit of the public, to answer questions about the purchasing and contracting allegations.

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