Wednesday, June 16, 1999

City manager's job future hinges on evaluation

The Cincinnati Enquirer

John Shirey
        Cincinnati City Council will decide next week whether the city manager will stay on the job.

        Council members have scheduled a private evaluation of John Shirey for next Thursday, amid some increasingly harsh criticism of his performance.

        Mr. Shirey said Tuesday he doesn't know what to expect from his annual review by the nine members, at whose pleasure he serves.

        “They've all been different,” said Mr. Shirey, who has been on the job since October 1993. “I'm just happy that it's been scheduled, and I look forward to it.”

        Mr. Shirey oversees an annual budget of about $900 million and nearly 7,000 employees. His annual salary is $144,841.

        Council members acknowledged that Mr. Shirey is facing more criticism than in the past. But they would not predict that his job is in trouble.

        “Some attitudes toward Mr. Shirey on council have hardened,” said Councilman Tyrone Yates, who supports the city manager.

        Strained relations between Mr. Shirey and Mayor Roxanne Qualls became evident last week when Ms. Qualls and Councilman Phil Heimlich discussed a plan to create an independent agency to take over economic development, which they think has lagged.

        Mr. Heimlich stressed then that the suggestion should not be viewed as a criticism of Mr. Shirey.

        But Ms. Qualls said part of the problem with economic development in the city was that Mr. Shirey “is not getting the job done. One of the things that I was always taught was those folks who work for you and for whom you are responsible ... the buck stops with you.”

        Later, Mr. Shirey said, “If council is that unhappy with the job I'm doing, they always have the prerogative to fire me.”

        The relationship between the manager and the council seems poisoned, said Charlie Luken, the former councilman and mayor and TV news anchor who announced his candidacy for council Tuesday.

        He was mayor from 1984 to 1990.

        Outsiders who might do business with the city are turned off by the house divided, Mr. Luken said, adding that this is the most important issue facing council today.

        Some of the tension has spilled over into public sessions.

        During last week's council meeting, for example, Councilman Charlie Winburn grilled Mr. Shirey about his handling of a police personnel matter.

        Mr. Winburn had received a copy of a letter from Cecil Thomas, president of the Sentinel Police Association of 250 African-American officers. The letter, addressed to Mr. Shirey, questions Officer Thomas' reassignment.

        Mr. Winburn repeatedly pressed for answers about what was being done. A tense exchange followed.

        “I will handle it by myself quite easily,” Mr. Shirey said.

        “It sure doesn't sound good,” said Mr. Winburn.

        Mr. Shirey's annual review is supposed to occur each April under the agreement he has with city council, but the evaluations are typically late.

        Last year's review came in September, and council gave Mr. Shirey a “passing” grade and a 2.5 percent pay raise.

        At the time, Ms. Qualls said council praised Mr. Shirey's continued work on developing the riverfront and his efforts with several road projects, including the overhaul of Fort Washington Way.


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