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Willoughby Hills mayor and council members trade allegations over ouster

October 4, 2018

Willoughby Hills mayor and council members trade allegations over ouster

WILLOUGHBY HILLS, Ohio – The day after Willoughby Hills Mayor Robert Weger removed six city council members, they say they will continue with their legislative duties even if they have to meet in a parking lot.

They might have to, because Weger changed the locks at city hall.

The ousted council members say he is the one who should go.

Weger said he needed to remove the members because their actions have paralyzed the city and its government, including passing ordinances that were illegal and were rejected in Lake County Common Pleas Court.

“I sued them twice and won,” he said.

David Fiebig, who has served on council since 2008, said, “I wish both sides would sit down and resolve these issues instead of dragging the city’s name through the media.”

Fiebig said he attempted resolution in a meeting with the mayor Thursday. “I asked him to please think of the consequences to our community. This is going to get out there in the media, and it will not be positive for bringing business in the city or for the people who love here and work here.

“His response was ‘I have to do it.’ I said no, you don’t. That was kind of it. At least I tried.

“I don’t believe any city mayor has the ability to remove council members without any sort of due process whatsoever,” he added.

Fiebig said he has talked to residents about the situation and “my feeling is that most people in the community don’t see this as an appropriate thing, and they’re sick and tired of political bickering.”

Fiebig also noted that in the discussion of removing council members or the mayor, “the voter is in charge. If anybody is going to remove an elected official, they decide. The voter is the boss. That’s what’s being lost in some of this bickering.”

Weger said Thursday that Fiebig did come to talk to him, but “said that he understood why I did what I did.”

Council passed nine charter amendments over his veto that voters will accept or reject at the polls next month, Weger said.

One amendment would give council the power to remove him, the mayor said, and another would remove the charter language that he said lets the mayor sack council members for mis-, mal- or non-feasance in office or convictions for felonies and crimes of moral turpitude.

Weger said that the amendments on the Lake County Board of Elections sample ballot do not contain the full text of the amendments.

Weger said Christopher Hallum, the only council member who was not shown the door, has come up with a plan for appointing a new council.

Hallum would appoint one new member, then he and the new council representative would appoint another, and the process would continue until there are seven members.

John Plecnik, a council member for nearly five years and a law professor at Cleveland State University’s Cleveland Marshall College of Law, said no mayor in Ohio has ever tried to remove a duly elected council member.

He said the mayor’s proposal to use Hallum to “pick a new, un-elected council is so illegal it’s not even funny.

“This is bad,” he continued. “Realistically, this is multiple felonies and misdemeanors and he’s going to have to be held accountable.”

He said information has been sent to county and state prosecutors for possible action.

Plecnik said council will hold its next regularly scheduled meeting on Oct. 11. The mayor “may try to lock us out, but even if we have to meet in a parking lot, we will continue to do the business we were elected to do.”

Laura Pizmoht, who has served on council for a year, described the mayor’s action as “unprecedented, because it’s so stupid and insane.

“There is no mayor, no governor, no president in the United States who has the power to remove even one legislator. If they could, that would make them a dictator, and we fought a Revolutionary War because we didn’t like that kind of government,” she said. “This kind of unilateral abuse of power is unacceptable.”

Pizmoht viewed the mayor’s action as retaliation for council actions that he opposed. She said there is no evidence to support the mayor’s claims of malfeasance on the part of council members, nor does he have the authority to remove them.

A council meeting is scheduled for next week but it remains to be seen whether there will be enough for formal meeting.

(Plain Dealer reporter Brian Albrecht contributed to this story.)

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