Wednesday, May 02, 2001

Shirey offers his defense to councilwoman

Reece will be pivotal in today's vote

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati's city manager defended himself Tuesday to the City Council member whose vote today will likely determine whether he keeps his job.

        But after two hours of questions and answers Tuesday, Councilwoman Alicia Reece said she is still unsure if she will vote to fire John Shirey.

        “I haven't had a chance to go over it all yet,” she said. “It was important to give the manager a chance to address issues of the council.”

        Four members of the nine-member City Council say they will vote today to get rid of Mr. Shirey.

[photo] Before the meeting the city manager looks through some papers as he waits to be questioned by council members.
(Michael E. Keating photos)
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        With only five votes needed, the decision will come down to three un- decided council members — Ms. Reece, Paul Booth and Minette Cooper. Ms. Reece used her employment and training committee Tuesday to review the city manager's performance.

        She said council has failed to provide regular performance evaluations — the last was December 1999 — promised to Mr. Shirey in his contract with the city.

        “I thought she conducted the meeting fairly and objectively, and did give me time to respond to her questions,” Mr. Shirey said after the meeting.

        Ms. Reece dominated the session with queries about the manager's response to last month's race riots and police-community relations.

        She asked him to outline police-community programs, to explain his steps for getting information to council members and to describe his performance during the riots.

        “Some years ago, I stressed the need to do more to get out in the community,” Mr. Shirey said, ticking off a list of programs, including: citizens on patrol, neighborhood cameras, neighborhood officers and citizen police academies.

        He also listed different training methods for police officers.

        “Being a police officer is a very demanding job; people get stressed out,” he said. “Of course, it in no way compares to being a city manager.”

[photo] City Councilwoman Alicia Reece used her employment and training committee Tuesday to review the city manager's performance.
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        Mr. Shirey also pointed out problems within his administration, including personnel, which he said needs “top-to-bottom” restructuring.

        During the riots, Mr. Shirey said he might not have been out in front of the cameras, “but I wasn't lounging at some beach in the Caribbean.”

        He said his job was to deploy troops and make sure that city services ran smoothly. Since the riots, he said he has been working harder to analyze the city response and make changes.

        Ms. Reece said several times that she had cautioned months ago about the declining state of police-community relations.

        When Councilman Phil Heimlich attempted to interject his own line of questions, Ms. Reece cut him off with an angry reply.

        “You have not at all asked the city manager to respond, but you're ready to make a decision on his fate,” she said. “I know you're looking for headlines.”

        Mr. Heimlich, who wants to fire the manager for issues unrelated to the riots, says he has lost confidence in the city administration. He pointed out several instances where he said the manager has lied or misrepresented issues to the council.

        Mr. Shirey disputed lying to council.

        “We have provided you with an explanation. The difference is you don't accept those explanations,” Mr. Shirey said, referring to a report that was released the day after Mr. Heimlich contacted city lawyers. “On basic issues, you and I disagree.”

        Mr. Shirey was hired in 1993 and makes $149,000 a year to oversee the daily operation of the city and its 7,000 employees. If fired today, he would get a $70,000 severance package.

        Mr. Shirey said he is unable to count the number of times council members have called for his job. But it is rare for it to occur in public.

        Asked if he was worried about what might happen today, Mr. Shirey said he was not.

        “I don't mean to sound cocky,” he said. “I'm just in too much of a pressure-packed position to worry about it. I'll come to work tomorrow just like I do every day.”

Time could be on Shirey's side

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