CINCINNATI -- A former supervisor who was on the job for less than three months sued the city of Cincinnati late Friday, claiming he was fired for questioning what he believed was widespread waste and fraud.
It's the third federal lawsuit from a high-level city worker in recent weeks, all filed by the same attorney.
Gary Colorez says, among other things, he found the city paying $41 for a 16-pack of paper towels -- about double what that item should cost.
In his short time at the Department of Public Services, Colorez said he went looking for answers on why the city was using outside vendors when it cost far more than doing the same work in-house.
His federal lawsuit names City Manager Harry Black and Public Services Director Maraskeshia Smith, in addition to the city itself. Colorez alleges they wrongfully fired him, violated Ohio's whistleblower law, abused their power and violated his rights to free speech and due process.
He wants the city to hire him back into his old job, as public works operations superintendent. He's also seeking punitive damages, back pay and attorney's fees, among other things.
Terry Nestor, deputy city solicitor, said Colorez' lawsuit "contains numerous allegations that are either false, contain half-truths, or demonstrate a lack of knowledge about the City and the Public Services Department." In a statement to WCPO, he said Colorez was fired for failure to perform and inappropriate behavior.
Mayor John Cranley alleged Colorez "used inappropriate language on the job."
"It's a completely bogus lawsuit," Cranley said Monday, during a radio interview with Lincoln Ware. "We get sued all the time as the city."
Colorez told WCPO he thought the city might try to discredit him, "to create some kind of black cloud over my name."
"I treated all the employees with respect," he said.
Colorez came to Cincinnati from Milwaukee in June and lived Downtown. He claims he found a city contractor, Contract Sweepers, wasn't sweeping streets nightly as it should. The problem was so serious Colorez refused to sign for payment, his lawsuit says.
He also claims he found city employees could do a better job of street sweeping and save about $500,000 each year.
Records show the city has paid about $2.3 million to Contract Sweepers Co. since July 2013. WCPO has reached out to the company for comment.
Colorez also alleges he found a problem with the city's recycling contract: that instead of making a profit on metal recyclables, the city paid its vendor to haul them away.
Problems also reached into the city's work cleaning up blighted properties, Colorez says. He claims contractors billed the city far more than needed to do the work, and so he temporarily halted all large cleanup projects. He said he believed the city could do the same jobs for about 25 percent of the contractors' cost.
Colorez also says he challenged the city's contract with BFX, a minority firm; however, his lawsuit contains no specifics. His attorney, Brian Gillan, told WCPO that Colorez didn't address BFX directly with anyone. In a separate federal lawsuit, a Cincinnati police captain alleged one of Black's close friends owns BFX; Black has said that's not true and denied there was anything improper about the contract.
Smith fired Colorez on Sept. 8 with Black's approval, his lawsuit says.
He believes it was in retaliation for his complaints "regarding the waste of taxpayer funds he had identified, and the fraud being perpetrated on the City by certain vendors, and on the taxpayers of Cincinnati by certain of their elected and appointed officials."
"The conversation we should be having as taxpayers is whether Harry Black's approach of third-party procurement is the best effort to achieve minority contract goals, which are laudable goals," Gillan told WCPO Saturday.
He added: "There is no question it adds significant cost to everything the city buys."
Gillan also represents Cincinnati District Fire Chief Raffel Prophett and Cincinnati Police Capt. Jeff Butler in their lawsuits against the city. Both have claimed they should have received promotions, but didn't. Black called Butler's lawsuit frivolous, and simply the reaction of an unhappy employee.
Nestor's entire statement:
"Gary Colorez was hired by the City as Superintendent of Public Services in June 18, 2017 as an at-will employee. Mr. Colorez was terminated September 8, 2017, less than three months into his employment, for failure to perform and inappropriate behavior. Mr. Colorez’s Complaint contains numerous allegations that are either false, contain half-truths, or demonstrate a lack of knowledge about the City and the Public Services Department.
"Like the other lawsuits filed by this same attorney, this version makes allegations relating to the use of third-party vendors. It should be noted that Mr. Colorez was not responsible for the contract with the third-party street sweepers. Street sweepers, like other city vendors, are paid based on submitted invoices. For street-sweepers, the invoice is submitted with GPS tracking for payment.
"Mr. Colorez was not involved in City contracting with BFX, LLC. As in the other case filed by these same lawyers, the City denies that BFX was illegally procured, and submits that the use of BFX is consistent with City priorities expressed by Council ordinance.
"The City categorically denies any allegation of inappropriate contracting or overpayment. The business decision to terminate Mr. Colorez was not related to any of the allegations in this version of a now repetitive set of unproven allegations. City management makes employment decisions based on legitimate business reasons related to performance and merit, as allowed by state and local law. The City looks forward to defending these lawsuits."