By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati Councilman John Cranley probably engaged in racial discrimination when he laid off an African-American staffer and replaced him with Cranley's high-school friend and campaign manager, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission is expected to find today.
Cranley denies the accusation.
The charges arise out of Cranley's decision to lay off Larry Frazier, 51, who had been an aide to Councilman Todd Portune.
When Portune was elected a Hamilton County commissioner in 2000, City Council Democrats appointed Cranley to replace him.
Cranley kept Frazier on until he was elected to a full term in 2001, when he hired Elliot Ruther, a friend from St. Xavier High School who had taken a leave from the City Council office to run Cranley's campaign.
Frazier claims he had seniority in Cranley's office, and was subjected to "disparate treatment."
Cranley said other staffers - some of whom had experience in his 2000 congressional campaign and on Capitol Hill - all had college degrees (Frazier did not), and that it was always understood that Frazier's employment was temporary.
"How can he say that?" Frazier said Wednesday. "He admitted that during his last stint on council, I helped train him."
Cranley said it was "ludicrous" to suggest that he needed Frazier to show him the ropes at City Hall.
"The only thing Larry provided was, 'The clerk's office is down the hall, and here's the code to the copying machine,'" he said.
Representing Cranley at the Civil Rights Commission will be City Solicitor J. Rita McNeil, the former head of the Civil Rights Division of the Ohio Attorney General's Office.
McNeil said state investigators have told her they will recommend that the commission find probable cause that Cranley violated the law.
"I find this situation very curious, and that's why I personally got involved," McNeil said. "There are things that have happened in this case that I do not feel are routine or normal."
McNeil said that Charlie Winburn, a former Cincinnati councilman and a member of the Civil Rights Commission, should recuse himself.
Winburn did not return a phone call seeking comment.
If the commission finds probable cause, the case will go to an administrative hearing.
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