Monday, May 07, 2001

Tarbell swings and misses

        If Cincinnati City Manager John Shirey needs someone to talk to after a particularly rough week, he might want to track down Johnny Oates. The two Johnnys had the same experience last week: They both resigned before their employers, looking for a scapegoat, could can them.

        Now, Mr. Oates, being a baseball manager as opposed to city manager, had to leave the Texas Rangers dugout immediately. Mr. Shirey, on the other hand, managed a deal where he can stay and collect his rather healthy salary for another seven months, as long as he clears out of City Hall by Dec. 1.

        It's hard to tell who had it worse, the baseball manager or the city manager.

        Mr. Oates had a ball club that had 11 wins and 17 losses and was 11 games behind the division-leading Seattle Mariners in the American League West.

He had a ball club with a lot of new personnel, including shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who will rake in $252 million of the Rangers' money over the next 10 years. He also had a pitching staff with a 6.72 earned-run average. That, for those who don't know, is really bad.

Casting blame

        Mr. Shirey, on the other hand, had a city torn asunder by rioting and a set of nine employers — City Council — who have never hesitated to blame everything that goes wrong on the city manager.

        City managers, we suppose, are like baseball managers in the sense that they seem to be hired to get fired.

        Alex Rodriguez still has a job. The 6.72 ERA Ranger pitching staff is still cashing pay checks. So, too, are City Council members.

        It appeared for a time Wednesday that Councilman Jim Tarbell, who bucked his Charter Committee's orthodoxy by going after the city manager, might have enough votes to fire Mr. Shirey on the spot.

        But, earlier, Mr. Shirey, a man with some political savvy, proposed to Mayor Charlie Luken and others that, if a majority of council was agreeable, he could resign effective Dec. 1 and save them the nearly impossible task of finding a replacement in an election year.

        Mr. Luken brought fellow Democrats Alicia Reece, Paul Booth and John Cranley on board, but was still one vote short.

        It appeared even the mayor was surprised Wednesday when, in the middle of the council's discussion of Mr. Shirey's future, Republican Pat DeWine, who had been expected to vote with Mr. Tarbell, suddenly decided he could accept the Dec. 1 resignation.

Sleepy head

        Mr. Tarbell was caught napping; and, as is often the case when one is unexpectedly rousted from deep slumber, he was one grumpy boy. Unfortunately, everyone in the room lost the next 10 minutes of his or her life listening to Mr. Tarbell heap scorn on Mr. Luken, Mr. DeWine and anybody else who had ever looked cross-eyed at him.

        Mr. DeWine told him in polite terms what he could do with his approbation; Mr. Luken, who has been around the block a few times, said he's used to council people changing their minds on things.

        Mr. Tarbell, it seems, had forgotten the first rule of political deal-making: Get it in writing.

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