A counterclaim has been filed by an individual named in a civil case filed by Andrea Thompson-Hashman, clerk of Nelsonville City Council. Hashman filed the case on April 23, 2020 in Athens County Common Pleas Court against a Facebook page named “Nelsonville Crackheads,” alleging that the page had been publicizing libelous claims against her.
As previously reported, Hashman is the daughter of Greg Smith, who is an ex-Chief of Police for Nelsonville and a long-time member of Nelsonville City Council. Hashman is also associated with the city government, having worked as the city council clerk since Nov. 12, 2018. She alleges that the CrackHeads page, which posts mostly updates on crime or drug use within the city as well as jokes and satire pertaining to the state of Nelsonville and surrounding areas, had been spreading lies about her paycheck from the city.
Hashman’s suit notes that in November 2013, the City Council passed an ordinance establishing an annual salary of $8,976 or $748 monthly for the City Council Clerk. The salary was established as the council clerk at the time, Susan Harmony, had occupied the position for close to 20 years. Preceding Hashman’s appointment to the position, three other individuals acted as the Clerk and were paid $500 monthly, as had been the established rate before Harmony’s salary increase.
City Auditor Taylor Sappington exchanged a few emails with the email address email@example.com, asking for clarification on the records requested by the emailer detailing the council clerk’s salary, both current and historical. The email writer, who does not identify themselves, alleges reports that Council Member Smith “somehow set it up for his daughter to be paid more than city ordinance allows and that when it was discovered in late 2019, it was corrected.”
Auditor Sappington responded, stating that until Jan. 15, 2019, the “system recorded the salary for the council clerks (Anne, Glennda, and Andrea all) as $500,” before being changed the afternoon of Jan. 15, 2019.
“At that date and time, it was changed to $748 a month, which was Susan Harmony’s salary due to her experience and long time in the position,” Sappington wrote. “It does not state why the change was made, it simply records the change in salary.”
January 2019 was when Stephanie Wilson was acting auditor of the city, as then-auditor Garry Dickerson was largely out of the office due to health issues. Wilson has been indicted for tampering with evidence, a felony of the fourth degree; forgery, a felony of the fourth degree; and telecommunications fraud, a felony of the third degree, all stemming from allegations of fabricating payroll records and theft of over $40,000 from the city coffers.
The previous clerks have since been paid for the perceived difference owed.
Since filing the complaint, two individuals have been named in the case as defendants: Korey Whitmore, of Lockbourne, Ohio; and Shannon Neff, of Nelsonville.
Whitmore denied the allegations laid out by Hashman, and counterclaimed that this lawsuit is an abuse of process.
He alleged that Smith and his daughter, Hashman, are attempting to suppress his first amendment rights, characterizing his posts to the Crackheads page as “constitutionally protected concerns,” which he posted “in an attempt to investigate the veracity of Greg Smith’s aforementioned illegal and unlawful conduct.”
Whitmore further moved to dismiss the claims made against him. The motion alleges that Hashman could be considered a public figure, and under Ohio law the matters would require proof of actual malice to support a defamation claim.
“In a society where media personalities regularly insist that a former President was born in Kenya despite the production of a birth certificate; where some insist that billionaires engineer a pandemic as a mechanism to create vaccines to implant microchips in the citizenry; and where a Washington, D.C., pizzeria is the headquarters of an international child sex trafficking organization, (Hashman) somehow attempts to squelch legitimate criticism of local government by invoking defamation law,” the dismissal motion concludes. “The Court must not entertain the plaintiff’s senseless claims.”
Defense attorney Sierra Meeks responded to the counterclaim by alleging that there are two kinds of defamation, and that this is a case of defamation per se. This “occurs when material is defamatory on its face,” pointing to allegations of corruption, nepotism and overpayment.
She also claimed Hashman qualifies as a private figure, and thus would only need to prove negligence. She cited the fact that the clerk position is not an elected position nor does it have any authority.
Neff has not yet filed a full response with her pleadings in the case, and was given an extension through Aug. 6, 2020.