Machiavellian Mayhem

Grudges, feuds, verbal and physical assaults -- it all passes for political discourse in wacky Willoughby Hills.

Don't confuse Willoughby Hills, "where the city meets the country," with its northern neighbor Willoughby, "The Courtesy City."

Though Willoughby Hills is full of quaint homes scattered along a gently rolling U.S. highway and hidden in beautiful, secluded pockets of the Chagrin River Valley, the civic life of this East Side suburb of 9,000 people is hardly as serene and pleasant as the scenery.

In fact, if you want to know how vicious and petty small-town politics can get, Willoughby Hills is the place to go. Politics there is a "blood sport," says one of the combatants. Grudges last decades, bitter feuds erupt at council meetings, and city leaders find themselves fending off police complaints filed against them by colleagues and constituents.

Two factions, with roughly equal support from voters, are fighting for control of City Hall. Their battles have escalated since the fall elections. A maverick councilman known for disrupting meetings and provoking fury in many of his fellow leaders was elected council president in January. One of the first things his new majority did was to remove the mayor, his political rival, from the council's table at meetings. The mayor, seething at what he called a disrespectful attempt to embarrass him, walked out of the meeting and has only recently brought himself to sit through council's deliberations again. Then, in February, a councilwoman allied with the mayor slapped a constituent at City Hall.

Soon after, local clergymen appealed to the city council to behave themselves and to "disagree without demeaning each other." They announced their congregations would be praying for the city and clearly implied that they'll encourage worshipers to vote against elected officials who don't start conducting themselves with Christian decency.

It's not at all certain that Willoughby Hills' elected leaders will be able to do that, given the bad blood between them and the city's grand tradition of acrimonious politics.

A Study in Contrasts

Today, the rivalry between Mayor Mort O'Ryan and Council President Peter Pike, the top elected officials in Willoughby Hills, dominates City Hall.

When Pike talks about the city's "old guard that refuses to allow change to occur," he means the mayor, who was first elected to city council in 1975. For his part, O'Ryan called Pike "an embarrassment to the city of Willoughby Hills" after one of the times Pike was thrown out of council chambers.

The two men are a study in contrasts. Pike is a big guy with a reddish-brown moustache and graying temples. He shows up to a morning interview in classic just-woke-up attire: T-shirt, sweatpants, and a baseball cap. O'Ryan, thin, jowly, and white-haired, wears a suit and a loud shamrock tie during a St. Patrick's Day interview.

Pike speaks in grand, often broad terms, and he talks about Willoughby Hills politics as if he were the only true voice of The People. O'Ryan has a disarming habit of laughing after he says something frank, but he's not above angrily recounting, in detail, the ways he thinks his rivals have wronged him.

Since joining council in 1994, Pike has acquired a reputation for long, stubborn, angry speeches on everything from zoning issues to creating a tree commission. O'Ryan, who's just started his second four-year term as mayor, is more plain-spoken -- but his critics say he, too, is stubborn and uncompromising.

Until this year, the hell-raising Pike could count only on longtime councilman George Kraincic as a steady ally. A 5-2 majority usually sided with the mayor and tried to limit Pike's speechifying. But in the fall elections, the majority Pike railed against crumbled, and the owner of a hot tub dealership almost unseated O'Ryan as mayor. The mayor's challenger then contested the election in court.

On January 1, a new council majority elected Pike to be its president. Pike said he expected city politics would continue the "same as it's always been: business as usual." In Willoughby Hills, business as usual means that the two political factions would always find something new to argue about -- in this case, where the mayor sits at council meetings.

Pike and his allies say they voted to remove Mayor O'Ryan and three administrators from the council table because there wasn't enough room there for everyone. But Pike also says removing O'Ryan has stopped "his constant interruptions" of council debates. The mayor and his men were banished to two small tables below the council platform, with their backs to the audience.

O'Ryan refuses to sit in the new seat assigned to him. "This is an attempt, in my opinion, to embarrass me and degrade the position of mayor," he argues. He says it's "absolutely untrue" that he interrupted council meetings.

The new seating arrangement resurrected a decades-old feud over how much the mayor should talk at Willoughby Hills council meetings.

"This goes back a long time," says Kraincic, who introduced the new seating plan. To justify throwing O'Ryan off the table this year, Kraincic talks about how, almost 20 years ago, when he was council president, then-mayor Melvin Schaefer often interrupted deliberations, even once berating a councilman in the middle of a roll call until he changed his vote.

Pike and Kraincic also tried to repeal an 18-year-old rule, dating back to the Kraincic-Schaefer feud, that requires the president to recognize the mayor at council meetings, but they lost that vote 4-3.

This winter, Schaefer -- a friend of Mayor O'Ryan's -- was one of the many residents who came to meetings and took council to task for removing O'Ryan from the table. "It's always been a goal of George Kraincic to diminish the role of the mayor and elevate the role of council, since that's what he is: a councilman," says Schaefer. "This finally fulfills his lifelong plan."

The Mayor's Assigned Seat

The March 23 city council meeting begins, and Mayor O'Ryan is nowhere to be seen. His nameplate rests on a little table at the foot of the council platform, but the chair in front of it is empty.

Then Pike announces that it's time for the mayor's report. O'Ryan appears through a side door and steps up to the microphone in front of council. He reads off his report in staccato fashion, moving quickly from one item to the next, as if it's an ordeal he wants to get over with as soon as possible. But as he stands before the council members, O'Ryan makes sure they know about his recent victory. The day before, a Lake County judge had declared O'Ryan the winner of the mayoral election -- by three votes.

At the end of his report, O'Ryan again expresses disappointment over the new seating arrangement. The assemblage waits to see what he will do next. Since January, he's either walked out after giving his report or sat in the audience and refused to answer questions.

But tonight, O'Ryan says, the law director and city engineer aren't at the meeting, so he will sit at their table and answer any questions council may have for them. This, in Willoughby Hills politics, is what passes for compromise.

The rest of the meeting is quiet by Willoughby Hills standards, and Pike calls it to a close after an hour and 20 minutes, surprising audience members who are used to hours-long meetings full of argument. "It's a record!" someone exclaims.

Council members and their friends adjourn, as usual, to Marinko's Firehouse, the brick and cinderblock bar that used to be the city's fire station. There, Councilwoman Billie Kamis relaxes, drinking wine with her husband as well as a former councilwoman, and a city official and his wife.

"I was ready for a free-for-all," Kamis says. "I never know what I'm going to be hit with at a council meeting."

Thursday nights weren't always so tense. "We used to come here after meetings and laugh and laugh," says Kamis.

But now, there isn't much joy at the Firehouse. A few tables away, Peter Pike settles into a booth, along with two new councilmen who support him and another friend. The groups at the two tables don't acknowledge each other.

The Gavel, the Buzzer, and the Beer

One night, not quite two years ago, a pair of confrontations exposed the tension and frustration in Willoughby Hills politics. It's a night no one seems able to forget or forgive.

Councilman Pike got into an argument with some of his colleagues in a closed executive session in July 1998. Pike remembers it as a debate over whether employee unions could choose a new health insurance provider. The meeting got so heated that Council President Michael Germano twice ruled Pike out of order.

Four months earlier, police had escorted Pike out of a council meeting after Germano invoked a council rule: Anyone called out of order three times in one night can be removed from the meeting. On that night in July, it happened all over again. A second argument broke out later in the meeting, this time over whether to rename a proposed community center. Pike raised a protest in the middle of roll call, and Germano ruled him out of order again.

As he'd done in March, Pike left the table and sat in the audience, claiming that, as a member of the public, he couldn't be barred from the council chambers. "I kept reminding him, please leave. You know what the rule is. Please leave," says Germano. "He didn't. He just didn't want to. So I summoned the police."

Germano pressed a buzzer under the council table that rang in the police station. When the police arrived, Mayor O'Ryan ordered them to use "all force necessary" to remove Pike from the room. "He was making a mockery of the whole system," says O'Ryan. "Because he had done this once before, I thought it was appropriate to deliver a message to him."

O'Ryan ordered the police to charge Pike with disrupting a public meeting and disorderly conduct. A judge eventually dismissed the charges.

Germano adjourned the meeting, but the night wasn't over. Four council members and some people from the audience went to the Firehouse. Soon Pike showed up, with a camera, and started taking pictures of his colleagues. Pike claimed the gathering was a secret council meeting that violated state sunshine laws. He says city residents told him that council members often talked about city business while they were out drinking together.

His colleagues were not amused. Councilman Marty Burkhart doused Pike with beer, according to Pike. "To show he was a big boy, he decided he would throw a beer at me," says Pike. "He drenched me from head to toe in a public restaurant."

Pike filed a police complaint. Burkhart pleaded no contest to a disorderly conduct charge. The judge found him guilty and fined him $10 plus $60 in court charges.

After that, things calmed down for a while, but the tensions didn't go away.

A year later, at a July 1999 meeting, Pike and Germano got in another fight. Pike says that, during an argument in executive session, Germano shouted at him, "You fat little bald man! I'll kick your ass all over the parking lot!"

"I know I called him fat and bald. I never threatened to take him into the parking lot," Germano says. He says he apologized for the remark. Pike complained to the police, but other council members said they didn't hear Germano threaten Pike, and police didn't press charges.

Germano tries not to be specific when he talks about egos and personal attacks interfering with getting things done in Willoughby Hills. But at the end of a long interview about political tensions in the city, he's asked if he knows why Burkhart, the beer-thrower, didn't run for reelection in November. "Quite honestly, he's just tired of the crap -- of Pete's crap," Germano says. "Nothing was getting done. Everything was always jumbled up . . . We'd sit there and discuss, and for some reason he'd find a way to throw a monkey wrench in it. It wears on you. It's wearing on me, that's for sure." (Burkhart could not be reached for comment.)

Pike defends his approach to council debate. "Myself and Mr. Kraincic sat in a minority for five years. It has been like talking to a brick wall. Sometimes when you say something and people don't hear it, you have to say it again."

Kamis says she, too, is frustrated with Pike's tactics. She considered Pike an ally when she joined council in 1996, and they worked to pass new environmental protections. But she says she hasn't forgotten how, a few years ago, during an argument in council, Pike warned her that he would become her "worst nightmare."

Pike denies saying that. "It's not my style," he says. But he says his argumentative approach is necessary if he's going to represent the city's residents effectively. "My particular issues have always been focused on people's rights," he says. "They're not Peter Pike issues. I become the spokesperson, in the true form of the word "representative,' and I re-present their issues. A lot of time, those issues are not taken well."

The Slap

The anger that runs through Willoughby Hills politics flared up again in February, when Councilwoman Kamis slapped a constituent at City Hall after a finance committee meeting. Kamis, who co-owned a Christian bookstore for 14 years, told a witness that Richard Butera accused her of being "in bed" with ex-mayor Schaefer. She took the comment literally, telling a reporter at the time that she considered it a "vulgar attack" on her character.

Butera denies making the remark. "The only thing I said was, if she can't stand the heat of the kitchen, get out," because she looked upset when she left the meeting, he says.

Police charged Kamis with assault. She's due in court next week for a pretrial hearing. Her attorney, Joe Jerome, says that, though Kamis has acknowledged slapping Butera, she's pleading not guilty, because there was no criminal intent.

"We intend to prove that Mrs. Kamis's reaction was [what] any honorable person would undertake, given . . . the sexual and crude remark made by Mr. Butera," says Jerome.

Butera claims the slap gave him blurred vision that may require laser surgery. Jerome says he wants Butera to prove in court how badly he was injured.

Mayor O'Ryan defends Kamis's action. "She should have slapped him harder," O'Ryan says. "Mr. Butera has been an antagonist for 25 years, as long as I've been around."

No one on Kamis's side thinks Butera was just using a political metaphor.

"Mr. Butera has a history of being crude and offensive," claims Jerome. "If we go on history and his past, it's pretty well-documented, in my opinion and my client's opinion, that he meant the biblical sense of being in bed, not the political sense." Jerome says videotapes of council meetings show Butera being "abusive" to various city officials -- and referring to Kamis as "Schaefer's girl."

Butera is a frequent speaker at council meetings. He's had a feud with the city for years over a pipe that runs through his property, which he says has created a sinkhole. Last year, he sued the city, arguing that it should pay him for the part of his land that the pipe runs through. A judge ruled against his case in February; he's now appealing.

Butera says he didn't make the "Schaefer's girl" comment either. He denies being an antagonist, and says that's just what you get called "when you speak out against something they don't like in Willoughby Hills."

Old Grudges

For someone who's been out of office for nine years, Melvin Schaefer's name still comes up a lot when people talk about city politics. Ask people about Schaefer, and it becomes clear how long people hold grudges in Willoughby Hills -- and how often City Hall has been the site of ugly brawls.

Schaefer was first elected mayor in 1975, the same year O'Ryan was elected to city council, and the two were long considered political allies. "Mr. Schaefer is probably one of the best mayors the city has ever had," O'Ryan says.

O'Ryan's rivals speak conspiratorially about Schaefer's friendship with him, suggesting that Schaefer still wields behind-the-scenes power in the city. "He's still the guy pulling the strings," Pike says of Schaefer. "He comes up [to City Hall] and powwows with the current mayor, his longtime friend. Then, at the meeting, he lobbies for the mayor instead of the mayor speaking for himself."

Schaefer denies being involved in city government today, except for his recent protests of council's seating plan and conversations with the mayor about it. "For eight years, I never went to a council meeting," he says. "I don't think has-beens should be trying to influence things nowadays. But I saw what they did to Mort O'Ryan, and I attended two meetings."

Schaefer and O'Ryan's friendship goes back to 1976, their first year in office, when they were at the center of a fierce battle. Soon after becoming mayor, Schaefer pushed for an increase in the local income tax, saying the city was in bad financial shape. Voters narrowly approved the tax, but his opponents angrily protested the actions of Schaefer and his allies at council meetings; one woman would shout out "liar!" during administration members' speeches.

Several residents organized a recall campaign against Schaefer and five council members, including O'Ryan. But city officials declared the recall petition invalid. The petitioners asked the Ohio Supreme Court to validate the petitions, but the court sided with the city.

Then a city official forwarded the documents, and the petitioners' court depositions, to the Lake County Prosecutor's office -- which went before a grand jury and won indictments of four petition drive organizers. They were arrested and charged with various crimes, such as signing the same petition twice, allowing a woman to sign her husband's name to a petition, and lying in their depositions for the Supreme Court case.

All the charges were eventually dropped or thrown out of court. Critics accused Schaefer's administration of setting the criminal investigation in motion to intimidate or retaliate against opponents -- a suggestion Schaefer denies. Some people have never forgiven him for it.

When someone asks Peter Pike about Willoughby Hills politics, he brings up an old Cleveland magazine article about the petition controversy. "It's all the same folks [who] are still in charge of the city," he says. "Nothing's changed. They've just passed the baton."

Schaefer survived the petition battle -- and his sparrings with Kraincic in the early 1980s -- and remained mayor for 16 years. In 1991, he stepped aside. O'Ryan ran for mayor, but a councilman named John Zur defeated him.

Zur's term as mayor included other strange moments. Zur killed a community center project Schaefer and O'Ryan had supported, provoking the local library board to sue the city over a promise to build a library in the center.

O'Ryan and other council members got the county sheriff's department to investigate whether Zur acted illegally in purchasing various equipment. The FBI was even brought in, but no charges resulted from the investigations. Zur, meanwhile, was worried that someone was tapping his phone. A state investigator found evidence that suggested the line was tapped, but a private detective and the phone company later found no taps.

More hell broke loose when a councilman called Zur a "parasite and vulture preying on poor people" after The Plain Dealer published embarrassing details about a series of business deals in which Zur's finance company was involved. The company helped finance high-interest loans for people who bought vacuum cleaners priced at $600 or more from door-to-door salesmen. Zur sometimes waited to take delinquent debtors to court until the interest -- at rates as high as 28 percent -- had ballooned to three times the original price. The news hit close to home for many Willoughby Hills officials; a lot of them had invested in Zur's company, attracted by returns of up to 15 percent. (Zur's attorney says his client didn't take advantage of anyone, since he only got involved after people had already entered a contract to buy a vacuum cleaner.)

O'Ryan and Pike both ran against Zur for mayor in 1995, and O'Ryan won.

Since then, various investors have sued Zur, his wife, and his finance company to get their money back. In a 1998 court settlement, Zur agreed to pay off all his investors; a judgment lien for $7 million against Zur, his wife, and his company lists 208 plaintiffs to whom he owes money -- including Schaefer, various former Willoughby Hills officials and council members, and the Willoughby Hills Lions Club Scholarship Fund.

White and Black

Today, Peter Pike and Mort O'Ryan continue the long history of anger and accusation in City Hall, clashing over the same local issues they've fought about for years.

The mayor acknowledges that he and Pike are often at odds, but seems to be at a loss to explain it. "It seems as though if I say white, he says black," he says.

But Pike chalks up their differences to one principle: "We're just diametrically opposed on the ideological principle [that] I believe in listening to the public; not telling them what they need, but asking them what they need. That's the only place we differ."

Ask Pike when O'Ryan has dictated to the people of the city instead of listening to them -- or ask O'Ryan what issue has caused him and Pike to clash the most -- and you get an earful about what may be the biggest, longest, meanest fight in Willoughby Hills politics.

"I guess the main issue, the one that hurts the most, is for years, we've had this dream of having a community center," says O'Ryan. "[Pike has] spent four years trying to figure out how to spend the money accumulating in that fund for purposes other than that."

Pike belittles the community center idea, calls it a pet project of the mayor, and claims the citizens don't want it. "The mayor wants to build a party center," Pike says. "What he refers to as a community center is really a party center . . . I don't think the city needs to engage [in] the activity of renting party facilities."

It doesn't help the mayor's side of things that, for a while, the project was going to be called the Morton O'Ryan Community Center.

"As Mel Schaefer was leaving office in 1991, one of the councilmen made a motion -- and, of course, I was very surprised, because I had wanted to call it the Schaefer Community Center -- to name it the O'Ryan Community Center," says O'Ryan. The motion passed. Under Schaefer, council had earmarked a portion of an entertainment tax for the project. But when Mayor John Zur shot down the idea, the money kept accumulating in the fund.

Finally, O'Ryan says, "My wife said, "Let's get your name off it, [or] it'll never be built.'" After he became mayor, O'Ryan proposed changing the name to the Willoughby Hills Community Center. His proposal triggered the dispute that got Pike thrown out of the July 1998 council meeting.

Today, there's about $600,000 in the community center fund, both tax revenue and private donations -- a big pot of money, but likely not enough to build the center.

Pike has argued that there are other ways the money could be spent. In 1998, when council put a levy on the ballot to finance a new fire station, Pike campaigned against it. One of his arguments against the new tax was that the recreation fund could be used to build a new station. Voters rejected the levy at the polls.

O'Ryan and his law director say the city is legally obligated to spend the fund on the purpose for which it was earmarked: a new building, built on city property, to house a community center. They say any attempt to divert the money could be easily challenged in court; O'Ryan adds that the office of the state auditor agrees with their position.

Last year, though, the city's recreation commission defied O'Ryan and his plans to build a new community center when it looked into buying an old school building and making that the center instead. After the elections, O'Ryan fired Bette Horwatt, the recreation commission chair, and decided not to reappoint Dee Dellas, wife of his mayoral challenger, to another term on the board.

O'Ryan says he removed Dellas because, "frankly, I was trying to make room for a couple of people who were very supportive of my recreation position." He says he fired Horwatt for being too political. "On more than one occasion, she got up in council chambers, and one night spent almost a half an hour berating me, telling everyone in the city why she wasn't going to vote for me," he says. Horwatt says she believes her opposition to O'Ryan's community center plan was also a factor in her dismissal.

There's probably a lot more argument to come over the community center. Even Kamis, an O'Ryan supporter, is cautious about the idea. "At this point, I'm not totally convinced that it's a top priority with residents," she says. And since city taxes would probably have to be increased to fully fund the center, its opponents could very well halt the project at the polls.

The Common Enemy

Almost everyone in Willoughby Hills agrees on one issue: They want to keep big development out of the city. Yet they've fought for years over the best way to do that.

"Our city is as rural as it can be, surrounded by other cities," says O'Ryan. "We have no sidewalks, no streetlights. No matter what side of town, people like this rural-type atmosphere and do not want additional commercial [development] coming into the city."

Even local church leaders take stands on the issue, implying that preserving the city's semi-rural state is a holy task. And everyone who runs for office in Willoughby Hills has to pledge allegiance to the town's biggest article of faith: Houses have to be built on plots of land that are one acre or bigger. If someone ran for office without supporting that platform, "They wouldn't be elected," O'Ryan says with a laugh. "It would be like committing suicide."

The one-acre zoning, along with a general policy of not allowing residential land to be rezoned commercial, makes for a wide-open suburb that still looks a lot like countryside. You can see the effects along State Route 91, which crosses Interstate 90 near the border between Willoughby Hills and Willoughby. Freeway-exit sprawl dominates the north side of the intersection, which is mostly in Willoughby: gas stations, a hotel, and chain restaurants, many of them with big signs to draw in I-90's tired and hungry. But drive south, and you see only a few buildings -- a small structure belonging to the Cleveland Clinic, a mom-and-pop restaurant -- before you pass down a beautiful stretch of highway, where an occasional house looks out over a gentle slope and a tree-filled golf course across the road.

Recently, a developer scouted the area, saw the conspicuous lack of sprawl near the freeway exit, and decided the land where the scattered homes sit would be a good place to build a shopping mall. The company secured options on most of the land and asked the city to change its zoning.

The mall proposal may be the only thing the mayor and city council can agree on. They oppose the idea unanimously and ferociously.

"I think it would probably be the worst thing the city could possibly see happen," says Kamis. "There's no basis I can see for rezoning that [land] and no advantage to the city at all."

In Willoughby Hills, no land can be changed from residential zoning to commercial unless city residents vote for a ballot proposal allowing the change. And city council refused to put the shopping mall proposal on the ballot. Some residents petitioned the city for a public vote, but a city official ruled the petition's language was written incorrectly. So, in January, the developer sued the city. The case is pending in a Lake County court.

Though all Willoughby Hills politicians agree on keeping the city's zoning the way it is, a disagreement over the details has become part of their feud.

Pike says that, when he was elected in 1993, the city was being "dissected and sliced and diced by developers." He argues that the city's Board of Zoning Appeals was "used as conduit to circumvent the 1975 charter requirement" that requires public votes on zoning changes.

Germano says Pike exaggerates the effect of the variances the BZA granted. "[He's] throwing those terms around like the BZA is saying, "Build your Wal-Mart, build your strip centers.' That's ludicrous."

Pike tried to convince the rest of council to pass a new amendment to the charter, taking the power to change land use away from the BZA. When they didn't accept his proposal, he supported a petition drive that put the issue on the next ballot. It passed.

Others on council argued that the language of the new charter amendment was flawed and would invite lawsuits. They tried to have the BZA's power restored in 1998, but voters shot down that idea. Germano says the city is fighting two lawsuits because of the amendment's wording.

"The law director is not happy with it," says O'Ryan. "It virtually forces developers to go to court."

Pike argues the amendment will stand up in court, because it's modeled after a provision in Eastlake's charter that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in the 1970s.

Even though O'Ryan has come out against big development like the shopping mall, Pike uses the dispute over the charter amendment to imply that the mayor and his law director are soft on the issue.

"It obviously must be their desire to help other causes; why'd they even think about discrediting [the charter amendment]?" Pike asks. But Pike refused to say what "other causes" he's referring to.

The Clergy Protest

In February, eight pastors of Willoughby Hills churches signed a letter decrying a "growing dysfunction" in city government. Father George Smiga of St. Noel's Catholic Church read the statement at a council meeting, declaring that city officials were "seriously lacking" both "the ability to work together" and "a respect for the value and position of each person" in City Hall.

"The lack of cooperation and respect in our elected officials has led many in our community to cynicism, embarrassment, and frustration with our city government," the pastors declared. They announced that they would ask their congregations to pray for more cooperation and respect among officials and citizens alike. And they said they'd remind their congregations to hold their elected officials accountable if things didn't change. "We also hold up the Christian ideal that forgiveness of past hurts and offenses can bring healing to relationships and lead to a productive future," they wrote.

Officials' reactions to the letter were mixed.

"It was very nicely done. Most of it probably fell on deaf ears," says O'Ryan.

"This was something that had to be brought out sooner or later and open the eyes of the people, and I think it has," says Germano. "I think people are really coming to understand where the problem is lying in council."

Pike and Kraincic did not have as much praise for the letter. Kraincic declined to comment on the clergy's message. Pike declared at the meeting that "this message could not have come at a better time in our community" -- but in an interview, he questioned whether it respected the separation of church and state. "You take . . . local clergy and march them into a city hall, and tell [elected officials] they'd better conduct themselves better or else -- it starts to challenge the very foundation and principles of this country," he says. He also complained that the message didn't stop audience members who were part of Smiga's congregation from attacking council right after Smiga left.

Pike says council is already getting along better this year. "I am extremely proud of the conduct of everybody at that table in the meetings that have taken place. I'm not proud of Mrs. Kamis's slapping, but in meetings this year, they have been gentlemen and ladies."

Kraincic says he hopes the council can move on to constructive issues. "I think all of council is now thinking for themselves," he says. "I think we've got a good council coming forward. We have a lot to do. We have to do it. I hope we get it done."

Kamis, too, hopes the council will come together on city issues instead of fighting. "As a body, we certainly do need to find a way to look beyond our personal agendas and our sense of self-importance," she says.

When the mayor talks about the city's need to move on, he's more blunt. "Willoughby Hills is a wonderful community," O'Ryan says. "It's unfortunate that, because of a few people, we have to be the laughingstock of the county. I hope that'll change in time."

But change may come slowly to Willoughby Hills, where grudges never seem to die.

Erick Trickey can be reached at [email protected].