Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black denies Mayor Cranley's report he'd agreed to resign

CINCINNATI -- Minutes after Mayor John Cranley announced his hand-picked city manager had agreed to resign, the city manager said it wasn't true.

Cranley's office said Tuesday afternoon the mayor and City Manager Harry Black had reached a deal, following days of speculation over Black's job status. 

The pair were "working towards a mutually agreed upon departure agreement" after they "reached an agreement in principle for the City Manger to exit City service," according to a statement from Cranley's office. 

Black denied he's promised to leave his job.

"No, that's not true," he told WCPO by phone.

In a statement, Black said he'd like to continue as Cincinnati's city manager "for as long as the Mayor and Council will have me."

"I'm in positive discussions with the mayor and council," Black told WCPO.

Cranley's office stood by the statement released Tuesday afternoon, saying the men agreed to broad terms of a deal. Details still need to be worked out, according to Cranley's spokeswoman.

If there is a deal, Cincinnati City Council would need to approve it; Cranley's office said it believed a vote was likely within the next week.

If fired, the terms of Black's employment entitle him to eight months' salary. He earns $261,283 annually, which means he'd get at least $174,000. That amount could easily top $200,000, depending on how much leave time Black has stored up.

Councilman Chris Seelbach said Cranley wouldn't have five votes to fire Black or agree to a possible two-year buyout.

Cranley's spokeswoman declined to comment on any specifics related to the deal. A two-year buyout could cost taxpayers more than $500,000. 

To recap the past week of controversy in city government:

Police Capt. Bridget Bardua, who supervises District Five, filed a discrimination complaint last Monday. She claimed, among other things, that Assistant Chief Dave Bailey, Assistant Chief Paul Neudigate and Capt. Jeff Butler were trying to oust Police Chief Eliot Isaac. She also said rules for overtime and off-duty details seemed to change arbitrarily.

The next day, an internal overtime audit revealed Bardua earned the most overtime of any police captain. And three of five sergeants with the most overtime pay were in her district. The document was leaked to a local media outlet, then released publicly the next day at Cranley's request.

On Wednesday morning, Black told council members there was a "rogue element" in the police department. Isaac expressed frustration that two confidential documents had been released to the media in the past three months without his approval. Both were under the oversight of the Administrative Bureau, Isaac said. Though the chief didn't name him specifically, Bailey is in charge of that bureau.

Bailey was "forced out" of office Thursday, according to Fraternal Order of Police president Dan Hils. A settlement agreement ended Bailey's decades-long police career.

Later Friday, Cranley asked Black to resign, according to sources close to the men.

Four current and former city employees have filed lawsuits against Black over the past few months -- one of the lawsuits was filed Tuesday. All allege Black retaliated against them in one form or another.

Black had no comment when reporters asked him questions outside his City Hall office Tuesday.

Cranley hired Black in 2014 to put the city's financial house in order and help fix an underfunded pension system. He told council members he expected transparency.

"His experiences, especially in Richmond, have taught him that if you don’t have an open, fair and transparent relationship with City Council, the enterprise can’t function properly," Cranley said. "And that was something that we took very, very seriously.”

It was Black's first time as a city manager; he called it "the height of a public administrator's career."

Council approved his hiring in an 8-0 vote, with Councilman Chris Seelbach expressing some concern at the time. Seelbach was the only one to waver, saying he was "51 percent" sure Black was a good pick.

At that time, Cranley said Black would be the "fresh set of eyes" the city needed. Almost immediately, he set about transforming Cincinnati into a smart city. He created an Office of Data and Performance Analytics that saved the city millions by scrutinizing high efficiency.

Under his leadership, technology expanded dramatically in Cincinnati. Now citizens can report potholes and broken sidewalks or track snowplow progress from an app on their phones.

He spearheaded an effort to make City Hall safer by installing a metal detectors and barriers and is credited with the upgrade of the city’s bond rating.

Black also helped lead the city through major events such as Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game in July 2015, as well as two tragedies that year with the deaths of Fire Apparatus Operator Daryl Gordon and Police Officer Sonny Kim.

He helped keep peace in the city after the July 2015 shooting death of motorist Sam Dubose by former University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing during an off-campus traffic stop. Fears of riots gripped the city when the dramatic video of the shooting was released to the public and again after the deadlocked jury verdict in the Tensing trial in November 2016.

Things started taking a turn in 2016. Cracks in Black and Cranley's relationship started to show when he questioned raises the mayor planned to dole out to police officers, at the request of the police union.

Black filed a formal complaint with the state against union president Dan Hils. Black said Hils violated collective bargaining rules because he lobbied the mayor and city council for the pay raises in the midst of mediation. Against the recommendation of his city manager, Cranley presented the raises to council anyway. They were approved.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Cranley credited Black with more than three years of accomplishments.

"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," he said.

Sheila Hill-Christian, Black's assistant city manager, resigned last month.

Editor’s note: WCPO does not ordinarily use anonymous sources. However, WCPO staff members use anonymous sources in rare circumstances where such sources are the only way to obtain information vital to the public good. WCPO staff members have vetted these sources and believe the information they provide to be accurate and in good faith.

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