Thursday, May 17, 2001

OMI head says Shirey interfered in investigation

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The head of Cincinnati's Office of Municipal Investigation on Wednesday accused City Manager John Shirey of interfering with her investigation of possible misuse of funds in the West End, a charge the city manager denied.

        In an unusual appearance before a meeting of Cincinnati City Council, OMI Director Kimberlee Gray — with her personal lawyer at her side — accused Mr. Shirey and City Solicitor Fay Dupuis of trying to hinder her efforts to get City Council to issue a subpoena for Charles Bronson, a former city worker who once supervised Genesis Redevelopment Corp. and the West End Community Council.

        Both city officials denied they were trying to interfere.

        It appears there are five votes on the nine-member City Council to issue the subpoena, but it will not happen before next week's meeting, because Mayor Charlie Luken was not present at Wednesday's session.

        Ms. Gray also asked that she be allowed to give her final report on the West End investigation to City Council directly instead of the normal procedure of submitting it to the city manager, but that effort failed on a 4-4 tie vote of council.

        OMI is investigating whether city staff members knowingly violated rules when they approved payment of city funds to the intertwined West End groups.

        Mr. Bronson, who is now retired, said in a recent hand-written note to Ms. Gray that he would testify about pressure from higher-ups to make the payments, but said he wanted to be subpoenaed so the information would be “on the record.”

        Under city law, if City Council issues a subpoena, the subject must testify to council in open session.

        Councilman Phil Heimlich, a frequent critic of Mr. Shirey, invited Ms. Gray to speak to council Wednesday over the objections of several council members. Mr. Heimlich had contacted the OMI director earlier this week and asked for a copy of the Bronson note.

        Ms. Gray said she reported Mr. Bronson's request to Mr. Shirey last Friday.

        Wednesday, she said, she discussed the situation with Mr. Shirey and said the city manager “accused me of insubordination” for seeking the subpoena.

        Mr. Shirey readily acknowledged he accused the director of insubordination, but said it was because the OMI director — who reports to the city manager — had broken his rule requiring department heads to report communications with council members to him.

        “I didn't say anything of the kind in regards to her asking for a subpoena,” Mr. Shirey said. “I felt we had no choice but to issue the subpoena.”

        Ms. Gray said she received a phone call from Ms. Dupuis asking for Mr. Bronson's home phone number. Ms. Gray said she refused to give it to the city solicitor.
       “I thought it would be intimidating to him and I don't want to lose him as a witness,” Ms. Gray said.

        But Ms. Dupuis said she wanted to call Mr. Bronson, at the city manager's request, to make sure he understood that his testimony would be public whether he gave it directly to OMI investigators or to City Council.

        Mr. Bronson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

        Four councilmen — Mr. Heimlich, fellow Republicans Chris Monzel and Pat DeWine, and Charterite Jim Tarbell — were prepared Wednesday to issue a subpoena ordering Mr. Bronson to come to a June 5 meeting of council's finance committee. Mr. Luken gave council members a letter saying he would support issuing the subpoena.

        But four Democrats - Minette Cooper, John Cranley, Paul Booth and Alicia Reece - said they were not convinced a subpoena was necessary, saying Mr. Bronson could give his testimony directly to OMI investigators.


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