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City council majority won't approve city manager's severance deal, Chris Seelbach says

Harry Black signed $423K deal to resign
Posted: 10:32 AM, Mar 16, 2018
Updated: 2018-03-19 23:07:09-04
Council to consider whistleblower protection

CINCINNATI -- A city council majority is balking at the $423,767 severance package City Manager Harry Black signed Saturday and won't approve it, one of the opponents said Sunday. 

"Our position has not changed. We do not support an increased buyout or believe that's responsible to the taxpayer," Chris Seelbach tweeted.

 

Council member Jeff Pastor, who brokered the deal to give Black 18 month's pay in order to end the feud between the city manager and the mayor, told WCPO Saturday he thought he was close to getting one of five "no" votes to switch sides. Unless that happens, the deal is doomed.

Mayor John Cranley's office said it could present the deal to council for a vote as early as Monday.

Black and Cranley confirmed the deal Saturday. Black called it "amicable and mutually acceptable" and "fair" and asked council to approve it.

The deal would "stop the bloodletting" between Black, Cranley and city council, Pastor said Saturday, adding he was "excited and more happy for the citizens of Cincinnati."

But Seelbach and four other dissenters - Tamaya Dennard, Greg Landsman, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young -- have called for Cranley and Black to agree to a "ceasefire" of discussion on the city manager's job while a special counsel investigates the mayor's claims against Black. The group also suggested a pro-bono mediator work with Black and Cranley on their relationship.

Cranley hoped to oust Black over what he claims is a long history of retaliatory, abusive and inappropriate behavior as city manager, including yelling at colleagues and visiting a topless bar on a taxpayer-funded trip .

Black issued this statement Saturday evening:

"Earlier today Mayor Cranley and I executed an amicable and mutually acceptable settlement, which is in the best interest of the City. I believe it is a fair agreement.  I am hopeful that all members of City Council will immediately voice their support, so that this very painful week of tumult and chaos for the City – and me personally – can come to an end.

"Although I will have more to say about this later, my time as City Manager has been a tremendously rewarding professional experience.  I have been very privileged to be part of the many recent successes in Cincinnati during my tenure.  Also, on a personal level the past four years have been a wonderful time for me and my family as we have made this city our home. I look forward to moving onto the next phase of my life and doing that here in Cincinnati.

"Thank you to everyone in the past week who has privately and publicly expressed their support of me.  I am eternally grateful."

Cranley's office also issued a statement from the mayor:

 

“Over the last 3.5 years it has been my pleasure to work collaboratively with Mr. Black in our efforts to stabilize the City’s finances—including the passage of three structurally balanced budgets and an upgraded credit rating—improve our ability to deliver basics services through the Office of Performance and Data Analytics; and get our roads back to good through infrastructure investments. Assuming Council approves, I wish Mr. Black the best of luck in his future endeavors and I thank him for his service to the City of Cincinnati.”

The deal would include health benefits, a non-disparagement clause and a positive letter of recommendation if Black asks for it.

Pastor called the deal "the best way to respect the agreement." He said he was able to broker the deal because he "has the full faith and trust of the mayor" and "cooperation on all sides."

Pastor said he was at his office until 10:40 p.m. on Thursday making "calls and concessions" because he "wants to get back to what's important like filling potholes and signing economic agreements."  

Black at first denied Cranley's claim last week that the mayor and city manager had reached an agreement, but by Friday, councilman David Mann declared during a special session of council that Black wanted to "leave his post." 

Only four members of council showed up for the special session to discuss a whistleblower protection ordinance that Cranley proposed to protect employees who might want to come forward to testify against Black. 

The five opposed to the deal were absent.

Despite Cranley's efforts to kick Black out of his job, the two shook hands Friday moments before the council meeting.

Mann said the city manager had three options: Resign without pay; be fired and get eight months of pay; or accept a resignation offer that comes with up to 18 months of pay. Mann just announced his stance on the issue Friday. 

MORE:  Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black could get at least 8 months' pay if he's fired

But the city, Mann said, could not afford for the mayor and manager's dysfunctional relationship to continue to distract City Hall.

"We have a lot of work to do. The energy in this building has been absorbed by these sets of problems," Mann said. "What’s new for me is the understanding that Mr. Black wants to leave, as long as he’s treated fairly." 

At council Friday, Black did not confirm nor deny that he wants to leave, only saying discussions were ongoing. He would also not answer questions about the type of buyout he would accept or that had been offered.  

Black said he was simply a pawn in the debate at that point. 

"This matter is really in the mayor’s hands and the entire city council’s hands," Black said. 

He later added: "I urge you all to view the city manager not as a machine, not as an object, not as a thing, but as a person, a human being who should be treated as such." 

Dennard spoke to WCPO Friday evening to explain her position.

"Sometimes I resent having to be a part of this," she said. "I was elected to work on issues around poverty and economic development, not personality squabbles.

"We have organizations that don't have resources, and they're frustrated at City Hall," Dennard added. "They're saying, 'How many buyouts do we have to give people?'"

The dissenting majority released a statement Friday that said, in part, "We have watched this unfortunate saga unfold in recent days, and feel strongly that it is now on us -- the council majority -- to bring order and a fair process to this situation."

Cranley asked Black to resign the afternoon of March 9. Earlier in the week, the mayor said a settlement agreement had been reached with the city manager. Black quickly denied he had agreed to resign.