Shotgun wedding reunites Willoughby Hills’ strained government

October 12, 2018

Shotgun wedding reunites Willoughby Hills’ strained government

WILLOUGHBY HILLS, Ohio – Days after the mayor sent city council packing, sparks flew at Willoughby Hills City Hall Thursday night, but nothing ignited as a partisan crowd spoke out for and against Mayor Robert Weger.

The occasion was actually a double meeting, starting with an hour-long townhall meeting to talk about nine amendments to the city charter that would redefine legislative and executive powers.

Weger has complained that the amendments would strip him of his power to remove council members -- ratified by local voters, while giving council the ability to remove him.

That was one of the few points that was not in dispute Thursday.

John Plecnik, vice president of city council, said the spirit of the amendments was to concentrate power with a body of seven – city council – instead of with the mayor.

Plecnik clashed with council member David Fiebig Thursday, when Fiebig tried to use the public-comment period at the townhall meeting to say that the nine amendments never should have been approved to go on the November ballot.

Fiebig took that position even though he was one of the six members removed from office.

The townhall was followed by a regular city council meeting that ran at least 90 minutes – the first since the mayor removed six out of seven city council members, only to be overruled by a visiting Common Pleas Court judge Tuesday morning.

Sentiment was about evenly divided, as more than 100 people crowded city council chambers and spilled out into the lobby where extra seats were surrounded by a standing-room only throng.

And though passions were high, police only needed to step between two people in the audience before one was ejected from the building.

Plecnik said the missing photo portraits of the six ousted council members were restored Tuesday night. Council member Christopher Hallum was the only one not deposed.

Weger did not attend the meeting because he said he had a prior commitment. Council President Nancy Fellows also was a no-show because she was travelling.

Plecnik and his supporters on Thursday night used the townhall and council meeting to decry council’s ouster as illegal and dictatorial.

But the ouster is only one of three cases involving the power struggle in Willoughby Hills City Hall.

Starting late last year, all three have been before before Judge David Fuhry, retired from Geauga County Common Pleas Court.

In the first two, Weger prevailed. At issue were attempts by council to brush the mayor aside and take over collective bargaining.

In the first decision, Fuhry called council’s actions “a usurpation of executive powers,” and declared the legislation illegal, null and void.

The second case involved an ordinance that the judge said was almost identical to the one he rejected the first time around. Randy Klammer, the judge’s lawyer in those cases, called council’s actions a power grab.

It must be noted that all three cases resulted in a victory for someone that is only provisional, namely a series of temporary restraining orders.

The first one, from a suit by Weger against council, is up on appeal. The second one is scheduled for a hearing in January on a permanent injunction.

The third is too fresh for such a hearing that could come no sooner than two weeks after the initial decision.

Meanwhile, opponents of the council majority are circulating petitions to recall all six council members. They continue to gather signatures, which must total no fewer than a quarter of the registered voters who cast ballots in the last council election.

Tony Miller, a Willoughby Hills resident active in the recall drive, said Thursday they already have several hundred signatures on recall petitions for each of the council members.

He said petitions for at-large representatives can be signed by any registered voter in the city, but the ones against district council members can only come from their district or ward.

Asked about his reaction to the recall drive, Plecnik laughed and doubted that his opponents could come up with enough valid signatures.

It is too late for the recall measures to be on the November general-election ballot

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