Wednesday, November 15, 2000

Police uproar may cost Shirey job

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Since the death of Roger Owensby at the hands of police last week, Cincinnati's lawmakers say they have experienced the same frustration with the police department that citizens have complained about for years.

        Because of that feeling, the city manager could lose his job today.

        City Council members say police administrators waited to notify them about the Owensby death, refused to answer their questions about it, treated them as if they were “stupid” in reports, and for days said nothing about the unwillingness of five officers involved to cooperate with investigators.

    How the votes would fall if council votes today on firing City Manager John Shirey:
   • Likely yes: Paul Booth, Minette Cooper, Todd Portune, Charlie Winburn.
   • Likely no: Pat DeWine, Phil Heimlich, Charlie Luken, James Tarbell.
   • Undecided: Alicia Reece.

        A majority of council members say that is a direct reflection of City Manager John Shirey's lack of leadership and could lead to his dismissal.

        Four of nine council mem bers said Tuesday that the police issue has become the proverbial last straw, and another council member said she has yet to decide on the city manager's future.

        “I have lost faith in the city manager's ability to manage this city,” said Councilman Todd Portune, who on Monday asked Mr. Shirey to resign. “I am not saying anything that every member of council hasn't expressed privately.”

        He said his request was a result of Mr. Shirey's refusal to publicly speak about a police cover-up in the Owensby case that the manager alluded to privately last weekend.

        Mr. Shirey, who has overseen the city's 8,000 employees for seven years, has denied talking about a cover-up and has refused to step down.

        “I don't know how to put this delicately,” he said of Mr. Portune's allegation. “I said no such thing.

        “My resignation is not going to bring about the end of racism in Cincinnati. ... And it won't bring an end to these kinds of incidents that understandably raise the ire of citizens,” Mr. Shirey said.

        But council members say the handling of the Owensby case has left them reeling from community outrage.

        Over and over, speakers at a special council meeting Monday told stories about their own confrontations with police, saying they were targeted because of their skin color.

        Since 1995, 13 people have died in confrontations with police and all were African-American. Four people have been killed this year.

        Council members Paul Booth and Minette Cooper called the situation a crisis and introduced several policies aimed at easing community concerns. These policies, which could be approved today, would require police to wear digital recorders at all times, prohibit racial profiling and create a hot line for citizens who feel they've been subjected to racial profiling.

        “This is a situation that has been building up and has culminated with the issue of the police in this case,” Mr. Booth said Tuesday.

        He said police administrators in the Owensby case have treated the council with disdain, and he blames Mr. Shirey for letting that happen.

        “Would Mr. Shirey still have his job if he were with Procter & Gamble? Hell, no,” Ms. Cooper said Tuesday.

        She noted several other cases in which Mr. Shirey has withheld information from the council or released reports after council offices are closed.

        Even Mr. Shirey's supporters on council say they are upset over what has transpired in the last week.

        “My overall assessment is that we have to be more honest with information,” Mayor Charlie Luken said. “I am frustrated with the piecemeal way information came to us.”

        But ousting Mr. Shirey is not going to help, Mr. Luken said.

        Councilman Pat DeWine said the police administration and the city manager have appeared to be at odds with the council.

        “There is a feeling that everyone is stupid except the police administration,” he said.

        Despite his anger, Mr. DeWine said he doubts getting rid of the city manager will change anything.

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