CINCINNATI -- After remaining silent over reports he'd asked his hand-picked city manager to resign, Mayor John Cranley's office released a statement Saturday morning -- to say he supports the city's police chief.
Cranley was scheduled to give the opening remarks at the annual Cincinnati Neighborhood Summit, but he was not there. Instead, he was out of town for a special meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, according to a statement from his spokeswoman.
"Last evening, the Mayor and Chief (Eliot) Isaac spoke and both acknowledged that they’ve had a mutually supportive relationship for years and that both are committed to the same going forward," the statement said.
It included nothing about City Manager Harry Black, whom Cranley selected nearly four years ago -- no denial of the reports, no statement supporting Black. The city manager and some high-level police staff have been at odds over the past few months, and especially over the past week. Isaac is not among those feuding with the city manager, at least not publicly.
— Breanna Molloy (@BreannaMolloy) March 10, 2018
WCPO obtained a copy of an email Isaac sent Friday to Cincinnati City Council members, offering support for Black. In the email, the police chief said his department is going through "an extremely difficult time" and also requested to speak with each council member individually.
"I want to take this opportunity to express the support that we have received from the City Manager as we make difficult decisions for the department," Isaac wrote in the email.
Black was in attendance at Saturday's event, but he refused to comment on whether Cranley asked him to resign Friday.
The mayor cannot fire the city manager outright; he must have the support of five members of Cincinnati City Council -- and it's not clear if Cranley has those votes.
Two elected officials and five organizations said Saturday they believe there's an effort underway to defame Black through "nasty media attacks."
"A smear campaign on the part of Mayor Cranley is unprofessional and beneath the dignity of the office," their joint statement said. It came from Councilman Wendell Young, state Sen. Cecil Thomas, the Cincinnati NAACP, Black Agenda Cincinnati, Cincinnati Black United Front, Greater Cincinnati National Action Network and Sentinels Police Association.
Robert Richardson, president of Cincinnati NAACP, said he is concerned the mayor is trying to have Black resign because he doesn’t agree with how Black conducted himself in regard to Assistant Chief David Bailey being ousted. Fraternal Order of Police President Dan Hils said Bailey had been "forced out" and accepted a buyout earlier this week.
“We think that the city manager, if he is doing his job and is within the principles of the charter, then we don’t see no problem with it,” Richardson said. “We don’t see why there’s such an uproar about it.”
The Black Agenda, an organization run by former mayor Dwight Tillery, alleged Cranley was "going after another high profile black leader." Leading up to last year's mayoral election, the organization criticized Cranley for his treatment of black leaders such as former parks director Willie Carden and former councilman Charlie Winburn. Tillery, Carden and Winburn were once Cranley's allies, but the relationships soured.
Mayor Cranley going after another high profile black leader bringing the count to 17. when this was pointed out in a campaign flyer, Cranley called it racist. Only in Cincinnati can a white leader of his statue attack black leadership and called their reaction as being racist .
— The Black Agenda 513 (@TheBA513) March 10, 2018
Black's simmering frustration with police leaders came into full public view in November 2017, when he made a late-night phone call accusing Fraternal Order of Police president Dan Hils and Assistant Chief David Bailey of obstructing a city agency that reviews complaints against police officers.
"What I'm saying to you is that if you guys don't stop, I, as the city manager, will walk away from the (Collaborative Agreement) refresh and I will let the entire world know why I am doing it -- it will be because of you," he said in that phone call, which Hils recorded and released to local media.
Hils and Black previously fought over raises Cranley recommended for city workers; Black felt Hils did an end-run around the collective bargaining process by appealing directly to the mayor. He went so far as to file an unfair labor practices complaint against Hils, though he later dropped it.
Then, over the past week, the simmer turned into a boil.
On Wednesday, Black accused a "rogue element" within the police department of working to undermine Isaac because of Isaac's race. Both Black and Isaac are black men.
According to Black, this "rogue" contingent leaked an internal audit of overtime hours out of a desire to be "disruptive and insubordinate." The audit, which was released the day after Capt. Bridget Bardua filed a sexual discrimination complaint against Bailey and two others, was authored by Bailey and listed Bardua as one of the department's top overtime earners.
Isaac and Black then dismissed Bailey, whom Hils said was essentially forced into early retirement because of the buyout.
"I think there's disappointment that the leaders of the police department can't get along as well as the men and women who are on the streets doing the job," Hils said.
Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman called Bailey's departure "unfortunate" and suggested a council vote to limit the city manager's power; Councilman Chris Seelbach said in a tweet it was "disappointing to again see City Manager Harry Black dismiss someone with little respect for their service."