Mayor sues coun­cil mem­bers

Ac­tion stems from over­ride of veto con­cern­ing act­ing law di­rec­tor

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - Front Page - By Tracey Read and Kristi Garabrandt Staff Writ­ers

Wil­loughby Hills Mayor Robert Weger has made good on his prom­ise to sue City Coun­cil mem­bers who over­rode his veto re­gard­ing Act­ing Law Di­rec­tor Stephen By­ron.

By­ron was tem­po­rar­ily ap­pointed to the po­si­tion af­ter for­mer Law Di­rec­tor Thomas Lobe re­signed Sept. 19.

“The bot­tom line is, Mayor Weger sued his own city,” Coun­cil Vice Pres­i­dent John Plec­nik said.

Weger’s at­tor­ney, Joseph Randy Klam­mer, re­sponded, “Hope­fully Mr. Plec­nik’s ap­proach to gov­ern­ing by in­tim­i­da­tion isn’t lost on the res­i­dents. He should be ashamed. Mayor Weger is fo­cused on what is af­ford­able and fair for the res­i­dents. Coun­cil’s de­ci­sion to hire a down­town law firm as their own lawyers, with down­town lawyer fees, is nei­ther. It’s shame­ful. The mayor made it clear he was go­ing to hire a sub­sti­tute law di­rec­tor in a cou­ple days, and be­fore

Weger filed the suit Oct. 27 in Lake County Com­mon Pleas Court, claim­ing By­ron’s $120,000 a year con­tract is cost­ing the city nearly four times the pre­vi­ous law di­rec­tor’s salary when ad­di­tional charges for lit­i­ga­tion and union ne­go­ti­a­tions are fac­tored in.

he had that chance, coun­cil voted to hire their own lawyer.”

Weger filed the suit Oct. 27 in Lake County Com­mon Pleas Court, claim­ing By­ron’s $120,000 a year con­tract is cost­ing the city nearly four times the pre­vi­ous law di­rec­tor’s salary when ad­di­tional charges for lit­i­ga­tion and union ne­go­ti­a­tions are fac­tored in.

“All I want is what’s best for our res­i­dents,” Weger said.

Weger is ask­ing Judge Richard L. Collins Jr. to is­sue a judg­ment that By­ron and the Law Firm of Wal­ter Haver­field LLP can­not be act­ing law di­rec­tor be­cause the or­di­nance declar­ing an “emer­gency need” for their ser­vices was il­le­gal.

He also is seek­ing a per­ma­nent in­junc­tion to stop City Coun­cil from tak­ing any ac­tions on Or­di­nance 2017-70, which the law­suit con­tends was passed with­out be­ing placed on the meet­ing agenda.

“De­fen­dants’ de­ci­sion to take ac­tion and en­act Or­di­nance num­ber 2017-70 and to usurp the power of the mayor was in bad faith and stub­born in its ef­fort to deny the mayor his ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity,” Klam­mer stated in the law­suit. “The stub­born de­ci­sion to con­tinue to in­sist in deny­ing the mayor his au­thor­ity com­pounds that bad faith.”

The Wil­loughby Hills Char­ter pro­vides that the mayor shall ap­point all de­part­ment heads of the city, in­clud­ing the law de­part­ment. The mayor’s ap­point­ment would then be sub­ject to con­fir­ma­tion by at least four mem­bers of coun­cil, Klam­mer stated in the suit.

The suit also con­tends the Ohio at­tor­ney gen­eral has held that the mayor has the au­thor­ity to ap­point a city so­lic­i­tor when the of­fice is va­cant, but coun­cil ap­pointed By­ron and the law firm with no in­put from Weger.

The mayor is also ar­gu­ing that By­ron and the law firm of Wal­ter Haver­field should be barred from act­ing as coun­sel in the law­suit since the act­ing law di­rec­tor is a de­fen­dant in the suit and likely to be called as a wit­ness.

Weger is also seek­ing court costs and at­tor­ney fees.

By­ron said City Coun­cil has 28 days to re­spond to the suit.

“We will timely de­fend the city’s in­ter­est,” he said.

“It is un­for­tu­nate that the mayor is seek­ing to have the city pay his le­gal fees on two sides of this lit­i­ga­tion,” By­ron said.

In a 5-0 vote Sept. 29, By­ron was named act­ing law di­rec­tor af­ter Weger did not present any­one for the po­si­tion to coun­cil mem­bers.

On Oct. 4, Weger in­formed By­ron in a let­ter he would veto his ap­point­ment and go to court to get an in­junc­tion if City Coun­cil chose to over­ride his veto.

Weger has at­tempted to ap­point at­tor­ney Michael Ger­mano as act­ing law di­rec­tor.

At the Oct. 12 meet­ing, City Coun­cil swore By­ron in as act­ing law di­rec­tor af­ter coun­cil voted 5-2 to over­ride the mayor’s veto of their ap­point­ment.

Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Nancy Fel­lows, Plec­nik, and coun­cil mem­bers David Fiebig, Janet Ma­jka and Laura Piz­moht voted in fa­vor, while coun­cil mem­bers Christo­pher Hal­lum and Christo­pher Biro voted against By­ron’s ap­point­ment.

Plec­nik said Weger has no right to sue only the five coun­cil mem­bers who voted against him rather than coun­cil as a whole. He also wants to know whether the mayor is us­ing city money to pay Klam­mer.

“He re­fuses to an­swer,” Plec­nik said.

At Coun­cil’s Oct. 26 meet­ing, mem­bers voted 5-1 to en­gage Haver­field should the mayor fol­low through on his threat to sue.

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