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Couple accuses city manager of retaliation over critical allegations

Husband punished for wife's comments, lawsuit says
Couple accuses city manager of retaliation over critical allegations
Posted at 1:28 PM, Mar 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-13 18:01:26-04

CINCINNATI -- City Manager Harry Black retaliated against an employee in response to allegations of incompetence and dysfunction made by that employee's wife as she left her city job, the couple alleged in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

NEW: Cranley says city manager has agreed to resign; Black says nothing decided yet

Blake Christenson is a senior crime analyst working for the City of Cincinnati. He was expecting a promotion and raise March 1 after he and others met with police officials last fall to discuss concerns about crime analysts leaving their city jobs due to low pay. 

However, Christenson's promotion was removed from the Cincinnati Civil Service Commission agenda, the lawsuit alleges. His wife, Elizabeth Christenson, had left her job as a senior computer programmer analyst for the city's 911 call center weeks earlier.

"A member of police management" told Blake Christenson that his promotion was removed form the agenda "as a direct response" to allegations his wife made in her exit interview memo, according to their lawsuit. They accused Black of having "direct involvement" in the decision. 

Black enacted a citywide freeze of certain new hires, transfers and promotions in January, though the lawsuit doesn't mention that. Instead, the couple alleges the promotion was nixed because of "unlawful and unconstitutional retaliation and intimidation" for Elizabeth Christenson's exit interview memo.

In the memo, Christenson described "emotional outbursts" from the center's civilian manager, such as "screaming, swearing, and slamming doors;" a double-standard for police personnel; and, ultimately, "critical failures... due to mismanagement" that delay service to residents and threaten state funding.

She alleged the 911 center's civilian manager "regularly mismanaged the budget" -- like buying computers and servers that were out of date by the time they were installed -- and "regularly sent administrative staff on personal errands" for coffee or to the grocery for some office items. 

MORE: Ex-employee alleges managerial incompetence, dysfunction at Cincinnati's 911 center

Elizabeth Chistenson had also made allegations about Black in her exit interview. After she questioned a plan of his in December 2016, Black "responded by lashing our angrily" at her, according to the lawsuit. He "yelled" at her, "berated" her and threatened to 'clean house up there' at the 911 call center, the lawsuit alleges. 

Later, Black called a meeting to apologize. He never did, but asked Elizabeth Chistenson for a hug, the lawsuit states. It was "uncomfortable," and Black simply shook hands with male colleagues who were there, according to the lawsuit. 

MORE: Former city employee: Black responded to criticism with shouting, threats and 'uncomfortable' hug

City officials didn't immediately respond to a reporter's query about the lawsuit. Earlier, Black wrote a letter to the city council stating that he offered an apology and said he did not intend to make Christenson feel uncomfortable.

"My main purpose at the conclusion of the meeting was to convey that I respected her and there were no hard feelings," Black wrote. "It was more of a paternalistic act to convey empathy and respect."

The lawsuit comes as drama is already surrounding Black. Last week, the police union president said Black "forced out" an assistant police chief who took a buyout. On Friday, sources close to Black and Mayor John Cranley said Cranley asked Black to resign, but Black refused.