Friday, April 27, 2001

Tarbell calls for vote to oust city manager

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati's city manager escaped a private attempt to oust him Wednesday, but Councilman Jim Tarbell is now calling for a public vote.

        A day after his botched plan to fire John Shirey, Mr. Tarbell said he will ask City Council next Wednesday to get rid of the manager.

        He also said he will apologize to the city's three black lawmakers — Paul Booth, Minette Cooper and Alicia Reece — for leaving them out of a series of private discussions he had last week with every other member of council.

        “Obviously, we can't rely on the mayor or anybody else,” Mr. Tarbell said. “I'm going to talk to everyone.”

        Mr. Tarbell claims Mayor Charlie Luken flip-flopped on getting rid of the manager after privately agreeing to talk to all of the Democrats on council, including the three who are African-American.

        Mr. Luken denies any involvement and said Thursday he will not support Mr. Tarbell's action.

        “This is the worst way possible to handle this. He should rethink what he's doing,” Mr. Luken said. “I don't think the community needs any more divisiveness. Right now, this is what this is.”

        Every council member has raised questions about Mr. Shirey's ability, and two members say they will vote with Mr. Tarbell. But others say they are not sure if the timing is right, although they would be willing to discuss Mr. Shirey's termination.

        Councilman John Cranley, a Democrat who met privately with Mr. Tarbell last week, admits there are problems.

        “God knows there are serious performance issues that need to be addressed,” he said. “But we may end up with more division and less action.”

        Mr. Cranley said Mr. Tarbell's plan to appoint Water Works Director Dave Rager as Mr. Shirey's replacement has many pitfalls.

        Mr. Rager, a former safety director, has been criticized by some black employees who claimed he disregarded their allegations of racism.

        If the Council votes next week, it will be the second time in six months that Mr. Shirey's job has been publicly challenged by a council member. In November, former Councilman Todd Portune asked the manager to resign. Mr. Shirey refused.

        Time and again, council members have privately tried to muster the five votes needed to fire Mr. Shirey. But in straw polls, a majority has never been reached — and a public vote never taken.

        Now, Mr. Tarbell and others are saying his failure to act decisively about claims of police misconduct helped escalate a community-wide furor that erupted in riots after the April 7 police shooting of an unarmed man.

        Mr. Shirey, 51, said he can't count the number of times since 1993 that his job has been called into question.

        “I am a dedicated and hard-working person,” he said. “That's what the citizens of Cincinnati get from me.”

        Mr. Shirey makes about $149,000 a year to oversee the city's 7,000 employees. He has the longest tenure of any Cincinnati city manager since 1963.

        But he has not received a raise — or had a performance review from council — since 1999. In January, the council considered giving the manager a 3 percent raise, but Mr. Luken cast the deciding “No” vote.


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