After a night of dinner and drinking, City Manager Harry Black and members of the city's police department stopped at a topless bar during a taxpayer-funded trip to Denver in May 2016, city officials tell WCPO.
Black says he and other city employees simply mistook the topless bar for one of downtown Denver's drinking establishments while relaxing after working hours.
"It happened to be a topless bar," Black said. He said no city dollars were spent at the bars.
The city manager said he and the other city workers stayed roughly 15 minutes for one drink.
Several of the city's top leaders went to Denver from May 16 to 18 in 2016 to learn more about how city officials there were using a new police technology.
The mayor's former chief of staff, Jay Kincaid, who was on the city trip, said Black asked him and other city employees to visit the gentlemen's club.
He watched as Black and several police officers opened the doors to downtown Denver's Boheme Gentlemen's Cabaret Strip Club.
"Lets go to the strip club," Kincaid recalled Black saying as he pointed to the red and black building. Kincaid said that he and the city solicitor declined to go inside, and walked away.
Mayor John Cranley told WCPO this bar visit is another example of the city manager's inappropriate behavior while on the job. Cranley said Wednesday that Black has exhibited retaliatory, threatening and abusive behavior as city manager, prompting him to call for Black to step down.
The mayor hand-picked Black for the job in 2014 and has given him generous raises over the years. But now Cranley is working to gather interviews and examples of Black's behavior in an effort to persuade council that the city needs a new manager. The topless bar incident is one example that Cranley says city employees might want to speak out about.
Cranley, along with other top public officials, was present for the two-day trip to Denver in 2016, but says he did not join other city leaders at the topless bar while out on the town.
Afterwards, Cranley said city employees told him that Black had asked them to go to the topless bar with them. Kincaid confirmed that Black did initiate a conversation about the topless bar and he asked city employees to go with him, including City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething.
Black denied that conversation ever took place.
“I think it’s deeply inappropriate as the boss to recruit subordinates to go to a strip club,” Cranley said. "I think its even worse to try to take a woman who is a subordinate to a strip club. It sends a message that is deeply troubling in the workplace.”
Cranley said he first found out about the topless bar visit during the cab ride to the Denver airport with Black, Boggs Muething and Kincaid. Cranley, Muething and Kincaid did not visit the topless bar, Cranley said.
“In the cab on the way to the airport he is regaling to us his activities from the night before at the strip club. It was deeply uncomfortable for Paula, and for all of us, and it was incredibly inappropriate," Cranley told WCPO Thursday.
Boggs Muething declined to comment for this story. Kincaid confirmed the cab ride conversation.
Cranley said he later confronted Black about the cab ride exchange.
“I didn't want to have a conversation in the car, but shortly thereafter once we got back to Cincinnati, I confronted him about this," Cranley said. "I told him it was totally inappropriate and I didn’t want it to happen again. And he apologized.”
Black denies that conversation in the cab ever took place. Black also told a WCPO reporter that no one has talked to him about this until now.
When asked if Black has visited a topless bar on other city trips, he firmly said, "absolutely not."
Cranley plans to ask Cincinnati City Council to pass a whistleblower protection ordinance for employees who want to come forward to testify against Black during a special session of council at 10:45 a.m. Friday. The city solicitor is one of the city employees who wants to come forward to testify about the Denver trip, Cranley said, but fears for her job.
"I’m worried that council will try to reduce this to a personal dispute between me and the manager and not let employees tell their stories," Cranley said.
The mayor, city manager, police chief, two assistant police chiefs, city solicitor and the county prosecutor were all present for the meetings, which took place from May 16 to 18, 2016.
WCPO has reached out to every city and county employee present for the trip for comment. Because no one would confirm on record which police officers were present at the topless bar, WCPO has chosen not to name any other city employees who joined Black.
— John Cranley (@JohnCranley) May 17, 2016
Which public officials went on May 2016 trip to Denver?
Mayor John Cranley
City Manager Harry Black
Police Chief Eliot Isaac
Assistant Police Chief Dave Bailey
Lt. Col. Paul Neudigate
City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething
Mayor's Chief of Staff Jay Kincaid
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said the group went out to dinner after a meeting with Denver officials. He did not hear any talk of a strip club visit during the dinner and said he left the group after dinner was over.
"I'm just glad I didn't go," Deters said of a possible strip club visit. "'Cause I'm an old man, I went to bed at 9:30 p.m. I don't know anything about what they did after I left."
Deters said he believes both the mayor and city solicitor also left the group shortly after he did.
Cranley said the other issue with Black's topless bar visit is this: Black was putting pressure on the police officers who report to him to go barhopping.
When asked if the police officers who went with Black to the topless bar should be disciplined, Cranley said 'no.'
"They were encouraged to go with their boss and that's uncomfortable for anybody," Cranley said.