Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black went before City Council Wednesday and forcefully denied misusing city funds or retaliating against a police captain by denying him a promotion, as a federal lawsuit alleges.
"The allegation is false and ill-informed,'' Black told council, flanked by Police Chief Elliot Isaac and Patrick Duhaney, the city's director of procurement.
Local media reported the owner of a contracting company who used to work with Black in Baltimore has been paid $2.6 million this year.
The allegation was raised in a federal lawsuit filed by Police Capt. Jeffrey Butler, who claims in his suit that he was denied promotion to assistant chief after he complained about possible misuse of tax funds.
Butler's lawsuit also alleges Black abused his power by directing contracts to a friend's company, BFX LLC, a joint venture between two minority-owned businesses, D.E. Foxx Construction and Brown E & C Construction. The suit alleges the arrangement requires the city to pay the firm a 15 percent mark-up.
Black told council that the contracts were awarded under a section of city law that allows awards to minority contractors as part of a pilot program.
"This was not a no-bid contract,'' Black said. "A direct award may be appropriate for use as a pilot project."
There are 20 to 30 such grants awarded each year, Black said.
It is one of the reasons that, during Black's administration and John Cranley's time as mayor, minority contracting in Cincinnati government has grown from less than one percent to about 17 percent of city spending.
Councilman Chris Seelbach told Black he understands the awards were legal, "but this person had a direct relationship to you and we should have been told that."
Black said he had no personal involvement in the awards to BFX LLC.
"I had zero contact with either of these firms,'' Black said. "I had absolutely nothing to do with this."
Wednesday's meeting, which came directly after the regular weekly council meeting, was called for by four members of council – Seelbach, Charlie Winburn, Wendell Young (who was not there because he is recovering from surgery) and Yvette Simpson, who is running against Cranley for mayor.
The four wanted Black to appear to discuss the charges in the lawsuit.
Cranley hired Black to be city manager shortly after he took office nearly four years ago.
Seelbach and Young are supporting Simpson for mayor.