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CRAIG BEACH Sides line up in feud



Published: Sun, August 12, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



One councilman said he will ask for the mayor's resignation at every meeting until his term ends in December.

By JoANNE VIVIANO

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

CRAIG BEACH -- The president of village council is supporting Mayor Camillo C. Gaia III, saying council members attempting to oust him are trying to "cause havoc and chaos" in the community.

"They enjoy causing strife in the community," Council President George Meleski said last week, referring to Councilmen Dennis Champion and Larry Ellis and their political allies.

Champion and Ellis are spearheading a group that is trying to force Gaia out. Champion called for the mayor's resignation at a July council meeting. He said he plans to request it again at Monday's council meeting, and at every meeting until his term ends in December.

What's behind this: At issue is whether Gaia was negligent when the village missed a court hearing, resulting in an $11,800 default judgment against the village in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

Gaia had received a letter in October from the court that set the time and date of the hearing in a lawsuit brought against council by former village Police Chief Christopher Buday.

Buday has retired and is seeking compensation for unused vacation and sick time and longevity pay.

Gaia has said he had faxed a copy of the letter to then-solicitor Ishraq Hafiz. Because he considered Hafiz unreliable, he also faxed a copy to the city's bonding company.

"I fulfilled my obligation above and beyond," he said Friday.

The judgment was appealed, and the money has since been placed in a trust fund. Lawyers are discussing settlement options, village Solicitor James Vivo said.

"We lost that money as a result of [Gaia's] negligence. ... When you willfully disregard that much of taxpayers' money, that's just as bad as stealing it, as far as I'm concerned," Ellis said.

"It's wrongdoing to everyone in the village. That's my tax money, and that's my neighbor's tax money."

But Meleski said he does not believe Gaia meant to harm the village.

"I really do not feel he's done anything improper," Meleski said. "In my heart, from what he's told me and what he's shown me, I don't think he had the intention to do this at all."

During a July meeting of council's judicial committee, Meleski and other members questioned Gaia about his actions. Meleski said no recommendation was made.

More disruption: Committee member Yvonne Andrews said the meeting was disrupted by Gaia's political opponents who charged that the meeting was improper because it was called by the mayor and not committee chairman Meleski. One man was escorted from the meeting by police.

Meleski said he was out of town for his job and unable to call the meeting, so had asked Gaia to call it in his absence.

Andrews said she has concerns about the handling of the Buday lawsuit but supports Gaia, "until they can prove to me he deliberately did something wrong."

Gaia said he feels Champion, Ellis and their supporters are trying to get "bad press" for the village because they are pushing to dissolve Craig Beach into Milton Township.

He said he was elected by village residents and Ohio code says he stays in office unless he commits theft or otherwise breaks the law.

"They can ask for my resignation all they want," he said. "... I do not have to turn it in."

This is not the first time a mayor in this 22-square-mile village of 1,300 residents has faced opposition. The office historically has been riddled with turmoil.

History of turmoil: Former Mayor Julius J. Yuhasz Jr. resigned in 1993 after accusations surfaced that he had stolen about $3,000 from his mayor's court. Yuhasz's 19 months in office were marked by meetings that often turned into shouting matches among him, council members and residents.

In 1990, a group of residents called for the resignation of then-mayor Nick Yacavone when they opposed his approval of the $38,000 purchase of 34 acres for a park. A leader of Yacavone's opposition was Yuhasz, who defeated him in a next mayoral election. Meetings at that time were also marked by hostilities.

Gaia, who was elected in November 1999, has also faced conflict. This spring, Champion and Ellis objected to a mayoral-supported proposal to levy a 1 percent income tax in the village. Last year, they opposed the mayor's filling of a council vacancy outside a public meeting. The councilmen and mayor also clash on the dissolution issue.

Both Champion and Ellis said they will turn to Vivo for advice on legal ways to remove Gaia.

Vivo would not comment on the issue, saying he is unclear of what his role would be if an official complaint against the mayor were made.

He said state law allows any five electors to file a complaint in probate court against a municipal officer suspected of profiting illegally from his position or of being guilty of misfeasance or malfeasance in office.




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