Wednesday, May 02, 2001

Time could be on Shirey's side

Who would want that job now?

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Changing horses in the middle of a stream is generally thought to be a bad idea.

        But if the “horse” is Cincinnati City Manager John Shirey and the “stream” is the early stage of a year that ends with a new city council and a directly elected mayor with enhanced powers, opinion is divided.

        This afternoon, Cincinnati City Council will take a vote that could reverberate throughout this election year - a vote on a motion by Councilman Jim Tarbell to fire Mr. Shirey, who has held the job since 1993.

        The issue of whether Mr. Shirey should keep his job is a volcano that has erupted from time to time in recent years - flaring, then dying quickly.

        But the rioting that scarred the city following the April 7 death of Timothy Thomas, a 19-year-old unarmed African-American man shot by a Cincinnati police officer, has re-ignited the calls for Mr. Shirey's head, particularly among those council members who faulted Mr. Shirey for not responding quickly enough to the tumult surrounding the Thomas shooting.

        The timing is curious, coming seven months before a directly-elected mayor will take office present to council for their approval the name of a potential city manager.

        “If I could write a scenario for a worse time to change city managers, I can't imagine what it would be,” said Xavier political scientist Gene Beaupre, who worked for former Mayor Dwight Tillery in the early 1990s. “Whether you support Shirey or not, you have to see this as kind of strange.”

        Strange or not, as it stood Tuesday, Mr. Shirey's job hung by a thin thread of one vote.

        Four council members — Mr. Tarbell and Republicans Phil Heimlich, Pat DeWine and Chris Monzel - say they will vote to remove him. Two - Mayor Charlie Luken and Democrat John Cranley — say they will vote against firing. The three black Democrats - Minette Cooper, Alicia Reece and Paul Booth - are apparently undecided.

        Mr. Luken said the question for those who support the firing is, “Who would take his place?”

        “Who's going to want to take this job on an interim basis, knowing that there will be a new council and a mayor in December, who may decide to go in some other direction?” said Mr. Luken, who is, so far, the only announced candidate for mayor.

        Mr. DeWine said the timing does not bother him.

        “I've been saying since I got here that the city manager needed to be replaced,” said Mr. DeWine, first elected in 1999.

        “I haven't pushed it before, because there weren't the votes for it,” Mr. DeWine said. “But now we have a vote and I'm going to be consistent.”

        Mr. DeWine said that if Mr. Shirey is fired, council should look for someone other than a “professional bureaucrat” to run the day-to-day operations of the city on an interim basis.

        Mr. Tarbell said Tuesday he would be satisfied to have deputy city manager Richard Mendes take over as acting city manager until the new council and mayor are elected.

        “We have to do this now, because the problem is now,” said Mr. Tarbell, who said he believes the city manager has failed to communicate with the public, as well as with his own city administrators.

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