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Council Members Want Blackwell Firing Investigated; Mayor Calls Move Political

Ann Thompson
The dismissal of former Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell has become a political issue 15 months after his departure.

Four Cincinnati council members are calling for an investigation into the firing of the former Cincinnati Police Chief.   Jeffrey Blackwell was dismissed in September 2015. Terms of a settlement related to his departure came out earlier this week.

City manager Harry Black removed the former chief citing a lack of communication and disregard for the chain of command. Black presented a 35-page document backing up his claims at the time.

Blackwell had prepared a lawsuit over his dismissal, but reached the settlement in August. The details of the agreement were released Wednesday following a public records requests from several media organizations. Cincinnati agreed to pay Blackwell more than $250,000 and in return Blackwell agreed not to file any lawsuits or take other actions against the city. Cincinnati is also changing its records to reflect that Blackwell resigned instead of being fired.

Council member Wendell Young says he wants an independent investigation. He's asking if Mayor John Cranley had undue influence over the firing.

"If in fact that is true, it's in clear violation of the charter because the city manager handles all the personnel matters, not the council, not the mayor," Young says.

At a City Hall press conference Thursday afternoon, City Manager Harry Black took full responsibility.

Mayor John Cranley defended the firing of Blackwell, even though he said he had nothing directly to do with it. Cranley backed up the city manager, saying firing Blackwell "was in the best interests of the safety of the city."

The fact that the agreement the city reached with Blackwell in August only came to light on Wednesday was unfortunate, Cranley said.

"I mistakenly thought that had been entered as a court agreement; I found out yesterday that wasn't the case,'' Cranley said. "And I also believed, since I was in the loop, that the council should have been informed, the public should have been informed; and I know that the manager is committed to do so on a going-forward basis."

Cranley went hard after the two council members who held a press conference Thursday evening – Wendell Young and Yvette Simpson. Simpson has declared her candidacy for mayor and will try to unseat Cranley.

"They are defending – Young and Simpson – they are defending a man who abused his subordinates and city employees instead of standing up for city employees,'' Cranley said.

He accused his fellow Democrats of "trying to make political hay of this firing in order to score political points for her campaign against me."

Wendell Young denied that. He told Thursday night's audience he watched the mayor's press conference. "I did not see him talk about whether he violated the charter," Young said. "When you can't deal with the truth, you have to deflect. You have to get people thinking about something else. So let's get them thinking about how much money Jeffrey Blackwell got. Let's talk about somebody else's political motives. Let's talk about that."

Young says he would need the signatures of at least five other council members in order for the investigation to happen.  He was joined by Simpson, Chris Seelbach, and Charlie Winburn at Thursday night's press conference. Six votes are necessary to preempt a veto from the mayor.

Part of Young's motion will ask the city manager to determine how much an independent investigation would cost. He plans to introduce it soon after council reconvenes next month.