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Mayor John Cranley 'forgives' Harry Black, but still wants him off the job

Posted at 12:53 PM, Mar 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-10 08:55:32-04

CINCINNATI -- Embattled Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black offered Mayor John Cranley an apology Wednesday at City Hall.

After, Cranley told a gaggle of reporters he forgives Black. 

But that won’t stop the mayor from trying to push the manager out from his job. 

The majority of Cincinnati City Council refused Wednesday to give the votes Cranley needs to divorce himself – and the city – from Black. 

As expected, in a 5 to 4 vote, the council killed the $423,000 severance package Black and Cranley hammered out earlier this month. The deal required city taxpayers to continue paying Black’s salary for 18 months.   

“If the city manager wishes to exit, no one can force him to stay here,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who did not support the buyout. 

Council will consider Thursday two more severance packages.

The first is an eight-month exit deal that the manager could take at any time he wishes. The second, offered up by Cranley, offers a year of pay to Black. 

Black, however, must agree to that deal and he has not indicated he’s willing to walk off the job with less than 18 months of pay in hand. 

So, the unhappy marriage between Cincinnati’s mayor and manager is expected to continue for weeks – if not longer. 

How council voted

Support 18-month buyout of Harry Black’s contract

David Mann
Amy Murray 
Jeff Pastor 
Christopher Smitherman 

Do not support 18-month buyout 

Tamaya Dennard
Greg Landsman
Chris Seelbach
P.G. Sittenfeld 
Wendell Young

Cranley first asked Black to leave his public office on March 9.

Cranley, who hand-picked the city manager and gave him positive reviews for nearly four years, said Black has retaliated against and threatened several city workers. Six former or current city employees have filed federal lawsuits against Black, accusing him of such behavior. 

Moments after council voted down his buyout offer Wednesday, Black said he wants to stay on as city manager, if he has the support of council.

He then shared an abridged version of his life story to a City Hall crowded with his supporters, and called himself a “work in progress.” 

“Mayor, I have offended you and I apologize for that,” Black said. “It is stated that I may have offended others. While it is never my intent, I take full responsibility and apologize to them.” 

Black didn’t specify what he did to offend the mayor or anyone else.  

Earlier this month, Black admitted he visited a Denver strip club in 2016 with other city workers during a taxpayer-funded work trip. Cranley, who was also in Denver at the time, said Black’s retelling of the topless bar visit made employees “uncomfortable.” 

Some council members have questioned why Cranley didn’t discipline Black for the strip club stop two years ago. The incident has not motivated council to act on Black’s employment. 

Cranley plans to increase pressure on council over Black’s job status in the coming weeks. 

The mayor is vowing to bring forward roughly a dozen city employees who say Black has treated them unfairly. City workers will publicly detail their interactions with Black, either through a press conference or in council chambers. The testimony will begin in roughly two weeks, Cranley said. 

“As a Christian, I will forgive everybody,” Cranley said. “The question is whether the behavior we’re going to hear from city workers is enough for city council to believe he should continue or not.” 

So far, Cranley has shared with council members what some of these employees have told him about Black, but that hasn't moved five members of council to agree to the costly buyout deal or a firing of Black, either. 

Hearing directly from these employees, Cranley hopes, could persuade a council member to switch his or her vote. 

Still, the majority of council remains distrustful of Cranley’s methods. Five council members have called for an outside investigator to review complaints against Black. 

“I don’t know what to believe and not believe,” Councilman Chris Seelbach said Wednesday. Seelbach is one of the five who has called for an outside investigator. 

“Until then, I’m not going to play games. I’m not going to fire anyone without any evidence, I’m not going to pay anyone to not do their jobs.” 

Cincinnati City Council meets at 11:05 a.m. Thursday to discuss the severance deals.