CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati taxpayers may be on the hook for at least $174,000 if Mayor John Cranley moves to fire City Manager Harry Black and council members go along.
And that amount could easily top $200,000, depending on how much leave time Black has stored up.
It's outlined in the deal Cranley struck with Black when he hired him away from Baltimore in 2014.
The city manager's employment agreement, recommended by Cranley and approved by Cincinnati City Council, gives him eight months' salary in the "unlikely event" Cranley fires him.
That's less than former city manager Milton Dohoney Jr. got when Cranley ousted him in late 2013, not long after winning his first term as mayor. In that case, Cranley agreed to give a full year's salary -- $255,000 -- plus benefits, in exchange for Dohoney's resignation.
Black's annual salary is $261,283.
Under Cincinnati's charter, a mayor cannot unilaterally fire a city manager. Instead, five members of council have to agree. Cranley may not have those votes.
But the "unlikely event" seems more likely now than it has in Black's three and a half years here. Neither man has confirmed the news, but sources close to the two say Cranley asked Black to resign Friday. It's not clear if the mayor offered any kind of severance package to do so.
And, despite widespread media reports about the subject, a statement from Cranley's office Saturday morning offered no denial.
If Cranley next recommends firing Black and council members agree, it would be a first under the city's so-called "stronger mayor" form of government: Dohoney, hired by former mayor Mark Mallory, and former city manager Valerie Lemmie, hired by former mayor Charlie Luken, both resigned.
Many of the city's most prominent black organizations have already lined up behind the city manager, saying he was the target of "nasty media attacks" and a smear campaign from Cranley.
The deeper issue, they said, are problems within the police department that led to this point.
Black's had a long-simmering feud with some police leaders -- over union negotiations and parts of the historic Collaborative Agreement, among other things.
But by Wednesday, it exploded.
First, the city manager alleged there was a "rogue element" trying to undermine Police Chief Eliot Isaac -- and suggested it was, in part, because he and Isaac are African-American.
Black made those remarks after someone leaked a departmental overtime audit from Assistant Chief Dave Bailey's bureau. The audit found District Five Capt. Bridget Bardua had the highest overtime pay in her rank. Earlier in the week, Bardua had filed a sexual discrimination complaint alleging Bailey and others targeted her because she supports Isaac -- and that the men who harassed her wanted to force Isaac out of office.
By Thursday, Black and Isaac dismissed Bailey, ending his decades-long police career. Fraternal Order of Police president Dan Hils said Bailey was pressured into accepting a "buyout" that would essentially force him into early retirement. Cranley called the situation "sad." Councilman Chris Seelbach called Bailey a "good guy" and said Cincinnati "deserves better." Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman suggested doing away with the city manager form of government entirely.
Cranley then asked Black to resign Friday, according to sources close to the two men.
Black declined to comment when reporters approached him Saturday morning. Cranley was supposed to be at the same event as Black, but he didn't show; his spokeswoman, Holly Stutz Smith, said he was out of town for a meeting. And a statement she emailed to local media was silent on reports about Black's job security.
Instead, Cranley's spokeswoman emphasized the mayor supports Isaac. The chief, for his part, sent an email to council members expressing gratitude for Black's support "as we make difficult decisions for the department."
The Cincinnati NAACP, Black Agenda Cincinnati, Cincinnati Black United Front, Greater Cincinnati National Action Network and Sentinels Police Association, which represents black officers, said the city manager acted " well within the exclusive authority of his position with the personnel decision he made regarding Assistant Chief Bailey."
Rob Richardson Sr., local NAACP president, said he's concerned the internal issues eventually affect how police work with the community.
"We gotta someday get beyond this. Cincinnati’s police force and department have to get beyond that," he said. "It’s going to have to come from ... everybody agreeing that everybody has a right to a position, that we are all equal in terms of the law, and we all should have opportunity for leadership."
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