Thursday, April 26, 2001

Tarbell loses try to oust manager

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A secret attempt to oust Cincinnati's city manager died Wednesday after Councilman James Tarbell failed to muster enough council support.

        But the city's three black lawmakers — Paul Booth, Minette Cooper and Alicia Reece — say they were never asked to participate in a week of closed-door sessions and phone calls that involved every other council member.

        “To purposely overlook certain council members is an insult,” said Mr. Booth. “It really creates further division within the city and on council itself.”

        Mr. Tarbell, who sought to fire John Shirey and replace him with the city's water works director, blamed Mayor Charlie Luken for the plan's failure.

        He said Mr. Luken “flip-flopped” on the firing because no African-American council members would support it.

        Mr. Luken denied the allegation.

        “He's making it up as he goes along,” the mayor said. “He was trying to orchestrate a coup and it failed.”

        This is the most recent of several tries by individual council members to fire Mr. Shirey. Like others, it was not done in public.

        Instead of publicly calling for the manager to be fired, Mr. Tarbell offered his own resignation at the end of the council meeting. He did not actually resign, and later said he was making a statement about the city's problems.

        Mr. Tarbell said he had lost confidence in the administration. He criticized the city manager's handling of the Roger Owensby and Timothy Thomas cases. Both men died in conflicts with the police and Mr. Tarbell said the manager should have reacted with strong statements and promises to change the system.

        Several times during a lengthy speech, Mr. Tarbell appeared as if he might call for a vote to fire the city manager. When the meeting ended without one, Mr. Shirey appeared relieved.

        “I don't know what I am accused of,” Mr. Shirey said. “All I can say is that I come in here to do the best job I can do every day under the most difficult of circumstances, and under conflicting agendas that all expect me to meet.”

        Mr. Shirey, 51, was hired in 1993.

        Until Mr. Luken backed out Wednesday, Mr. Tarbell said, a majority of council supported firing Mr. Shirey.

        “It became a racial matter,” Mr. Tarbell said, adding that council members were concerned about a community backlash if an all-white majority dismissed Mr. Shirey. “Because it was not a mix that some people wanted, we couldn't do it. ... That was some people's thinking, not mine.”

        Mr. Booth, Ms. Cooper and Ms. Reece said they never heard from anyone directly about the plan. But all said they should have.

        “I don't understand how you can not talk to everyone when you're talking about firing the city manager,” Ms. Cooper said.

        Ms. Reece called it an issue of respect.

        “It's not about race, we should have been respected as a council person,” she said.


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