Thursday, June 22, 2000

Clean out your desk, Mr. Shirey

        John Shirey, Manager, City of Cincinnati

        Dear John,

        I keep waiting for you to tell them to take this job and shove it. You are too polite. Or maybe you have been cuffed around so long you don't notice anymore.

        Perhaps it's the Stockholm Syndrome. You've been hostage to this job for so long you've developed an unhealthy attachment to your captors.

        Some of your bosses on City Council have called for a performance review. “Either we need to get behind the administration and not beat them up every week or make changes,” Councilwoman Minette Cooper said. She suggested that the council should either support you or get rid of you.

        That was last week.

Public floggings
        Meanwhile, you had the temerity to make a personnel decision and were called on the carpet. Again. There must be a really worn spot on that carpet exactly your shoe size. You returned two city engineers to work after auditors reported that money had been diverted from approved road projects to road work that was not approved.

        No money was stolen, and you put the guys back to work after five months' suspension. (The investigation did not extend to the council members who hound Public Works to fix streets favored by them or neighborhood groups.)

        It must be fun to deal with employees who are not sure whether they should be sucking up to you or to, say, Phil Heimlich. You must love planning long-term projects when department heads know the pols will be around until the next election, and you will be their supervisor for, well, that day at least.

        Remember when you came here from Long Beach, where they thought you hung the moon? You probably could get your old job back any time you want. But I understand why you'd want to stay in Cincinnati. Nice place, isn't it? You've got kids in school here. Wonder what kind of guff they get when you are in the midst of one of your public floggings.

A bargain
        You don't have to leave town. The Zoo is looking for a new director. The Chamber of Commerce is looking for a new exec. You'd get a big salary boost and your immediate bosses would be a nice, discreet group of adults.

        In a guest editorial two months ago in The Cincinnati Enquirer, Councilman Charles Winburn complained, “Some of us have gotten phone calls from various movers and shakers, asking us to keep him.”

        Presumably, these movers and shakers think you have something to offer. See if they have any openings in their companies. You handle a billion-dollar budget and supervise 7,000 employees with vastly disparate assignments and a very muscular union — civil service. You'd look like a bargain at your $149,000 salary. You could discover the joys of stock options and anonymity.

        In case nobody has told you this lately — at least in public — you are doing the job you were hired to do. My garbage is collected regularly. I have not fallen into any potholes. Crime is declining. Fires are being doused.

        And even though I'd hate to see you leave with the inevitable disarray this would cause, I wish you'd fight back. Tell council members they have 24 hours to give you the support you deserve. Tell them you expect the ensuing discussion will be in executive session. Call their bluff.

        Or call it quits.


        A pained observer and taxpayer.

        E-mail Laura at or call (513) 768-8393.


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