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Former city employee: Black responded to criticism with shouting, threats and 'uncomfortable' hug

Posted: 5:17 PM, Feb 28, 2018
Updated: 2018-03-04 12:57:16Z

CINCINNATI -- A former city employee claims when she complained to City Manager Harry Black in a December 2016 staff meeting, he responded with shouting and threats to her job.

Black never apologized to the former employee for the outburst but did offer her an "uncomfortable" hug, according to allegations she made in city documents.

Black's office on Wednesday released a copy of the allegations , which were detailed in computer programmer analyst Elizabeth Christenson's exit interview. WCPO submitted a public records request for Christenson's memo earlier in the day. 

In a letter sent Wednesday to Cincinnati City Council, Black offered an apology to Christenson for the hug.

Christenson resigned from her job at the city's 911 call center earlier this month. She submitted a memo to Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot K. Isaac describing what she called mismanagement of the call center office as well as inappropriate behavior from the city manager. You can read more about her allegations of mismanagement at the call center here.

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In the document, Christenson said she tried to raise concerns about an overhaul of Cincinnati's dispatch system during a meeting with Black and other city employees.

"After I stated my concern, Mr. Black angrily lashed out at me and threatened jobs of (information technology) personnel present," Christenson's statement reads. "Mr. Black yelled at me for professionally expressing legitimate concerns. I sat flabbergasted at the reaction and behavior I just witnessed."

In a response letter to Cincinnati City Council, Black acknowledged an intense meeting with IT staff in December. He did not specifically address Christenson's allegations of shouting or threats.

"I made it clear during the meeting that these changes were required and would be made," Black wrote in his letter to council. "The expectation was that all those involved would accept and embrace this new path as opposed to providing operational barriers."

Black, who was hired as the city manager in 2014, declined to make any additional comments to WCPO.

Black invited Christenson and two other colleagues to meet with him later that day at City Hall after the tense meeting, according to city documents.

Throughout the meeting, Black did not offer her an apology -- but he did offer her a hug, Christenson's memo says.

"I extended my hand to shake Mr. Black's hand as well," Christenson's statement reads. "However, instead of a professional hand shake, Mr. Black asked if he could give me a hug."

Christenson's statement said she agreed but felt the hug was "horribly uncomfortable as it was unprofessional."

Black shook the hands of the two other male colleagues in the room, according to Christenson's account of the encounter. 

"I felt as though a small child receiving a hug from my grandpa rubbing (my) waist as to say 'it's OK kiddo' -- in my opinion this would NEVER be done to a male coworker," her statement says.

In a letter sent Wednesday to council, Black offered an apology and said he did not intend to make Christenson feel uncomfortable.

"My main purpose at the conclusion of the meeting was to convey that I respected her and there were no hard feelings," Black wrote. "It was more of a paternalistic act to convey empathy and respect."

Assistant Fire Chief Anson Turley acknowledged he was present during the meeting between Black and Christenson. Turley said at the conclusion of the meeting he shook hands with Black, while Black and Christenson hugged.

"I did not get the impression then, nor do I have the impression now that the hug was anything but a show of concern on his part," Turley wrote in a letter submitted to council Wednesday.

Christenson's exit interview also alleges a variety of mismanagement and staffing problems in the city's 911 call center. 

The allegations listed in Christenson’s memo ranged from inappropriate touching to emotional outbursts laced with profanity and unequal treatment of men versus women.