Wednesday, November 07, 2001

Goodbye kiss

City won't have Shirey to blame

        Anything else, Mr. Shirey?

        That question is always John Shirey's cue to say “No” and put another Wednesday City Council meeting out of its misery.

        He's performed that task for eight years.

        Counting today's session at the Plum Street argument clinic, he has four more chances to do his duty. Then he leaves office, concluding one of the longest and most unfairly maligned stints as Cincinnati's city manager.

        As John Shirey's last meeting fast approaches, the town's fourth longest-serving city manager has yet to write a farewell speech. He could list the accomplishments of which he's most proud, revamping Fort Washington Way, making City Hall more customer friendly. But, he wants to wait until the time's right.

        “I won't know what I'll say until that day,” the city manager noted as he sat in the first-floor City Hall office he's occupied since 1993.

        Considering the daily abuse City Council has heaped upon him, if I were in his black loafers, I'd leave its disagreeable members with this invitation:

        Kiss my posterior and journey to a hot place known for its eternal damnation.

        Or something like that.

        Suggesting such a farewell made John Shirey laugh out loud, something he has rarely done since taking the city manager's job.

        “I won't deny there have been days when I felt that would have been the proper response,” he admitted.

        “But, I don't leave with a lot of bitterness.

        “If I have something to say that day,” he added, “it will be for the city and for the city's work force. I think I've helped change the hearts and minds of the 7,000 people working for the city. To have them be more responsive to the public — and have them keep improving — is harder than redoing a freeway.”

        Typical John Shirey. Concise. Principled. Frank. Even though I've disagreed with him in print over the years, I admire the guy. He's a voice of reason amid the cacophony of insanity.

        Council's bickering, in-fighting and back-stabbing — specialties of the gang that can't think straight — have made the city manager's life miserable. Yet, he won't stoop to bad-mouth anyone.

        For eight years he has been council's favorite target, punching bag, voodoo doll and scapegoat.

        When things went wrong, it was his fault. When things went right, council took credit.

        When the riots broke out in April, he took the heat, then the fall. Council members called for his head. Beating them to the punch, the city manager offered to resign. Council accepted — after more back-biting.

        John Shirey leaves City Hall on Dec. 1, the same day a new strong mayor — able to select a city manager — takes office.

        “If I hadn't become "the issue' after the riots,” the city manager said, “I would have sat down with the new mayor after the election. If he liked what I was doing, I probably would have stayed.”

        Instead, he will move on. But not right away. He's looking for just the right job.

        “I'm willing to be a city manager again,” he said. But it would have to be “some place where I would get some support and appreciation.”

        Too bad he didn't find that here. It's Cincinnati's loss.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340; e-mail


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