Council OKs investigation of Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black

Council OKs investigation of Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black
Cincinnati city manager Harry Black attends a special meeting of city council at City Hall, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Cincinnati Enquirer - Cincinnati City Council laid the groundwork Wednesday for an investigation of misconduct accusations against City Manager Harry Black.

According to our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer, the plan, which won an 8-0 majority of a council committee, gives two council members broad authority to lead the investigation and to solicit sworn testimony from any city employees who claim Black acted inappropriately on the job.

The move ends several weeks of debate over whether an investigation is necessary and, if so, how to handle it. Mayor John Cranley, who wants to force out Black, has said the claims against the city manager are serious and should be addressed in public.

A council majority has refused to fire Black, saying Cranley's objections to him are personal and political rather than based on his job performance. Black has said he wants to keep his job.

The ongoing feud between the two most powerful figures at City Hall has paralyzed city government and divided City Council.

Councilman Chris Seebach said the plan should remove some of the personal hostility that has clouded the past several weeks of debate by limiting the direct involvement of Black and Cranley.

"This takes the two people responsible for the mess we're in out of the equation," Seelbach said.

Under the plan approved Wednesday, council members David Mann and Tamaya Dennard would lead the investigation. The two would be present when city employees give sworn testimony in private and could question those employees about the allegations they make.

The employees could bring lawyers or union representatives to the meetings, although they would be present only to observe the proceedings.

Mann and Dennard could seek additional testimony or invite others to testify if they deem it necessary. When their investigation is done, they will present the testimony to Black and will allow him time to respond.

At some point later, all of the testimony would be shared with council, the mayor and the public in the form of transcripts or recordings.

Mann and Dennard will not issue a final report on their findings and will instead defer any action based on their investigation to the entire City Council. The plan does not indicate how long the process might take.

Although Mann and Dennard are both Democrats, they have been on opposite sides of the debate over Black's future. Mann is one of four council members who have supported Cranley's efforts to remove Black, either by firing him or accepting a buyout of his contract.

Dennard is one of the five council members who have opposed firing Black or buying him out for more than eight months pay.

"The role of Miss Dennard and myself is to be neutral observers," Mann said. "I think what we put together can work."

He and other council members said doing the investigation themselves will save money because the city won't need to hire a private counsel to conduct the probe, as some council members proposed last week.

Councilman Greg Landsman said the process approved Wednesday also should ease concerns some employees may have had about whether their participation in the investigation could lead to retaliation in the workplace.

"City employees absolutely have the right to be heard," Landsman said. "They also have a right to be protected. I think this does that."

Black and Cranley worked out a deal last week for him to leave with 18 months pay, or more than $400,000, but the council majority called it a waste of taxpayer money and refused to accept it.

The accusations against Black include claims he bullied employees and retaliated against those who disagreed with him. Five employees have sued Black, claiming retaliation.

Black has denied inappropriate behavior and said the complaints are related to tough stances he's taken on union negotiations or to his demanding leadership style.