Nelsonville City Council voted to remove Council Member Greg Smith in an explosive meeting Wednesday night following a lengthy and intense examination of the City Council vice president.
After hours of discussion, shouting and examinations — the vote was unceremonious. Members in attendance voted unanimously to remove Smith from Nelsonville City Council on the grounds he was not a continuous resident of the city.
City Council Member Carla Grant was not present for the vote.
In mid-May, Nelsonville City Council rescinded their previous finding that Greg Smith was not a resident of Nelsonville, but rather lived in neighboring Washington County.
Last week, Nelsonville City Council appointed special counsel to prosecute pending removal proceedings against Smith, reversing course on previous actions. This follows months of evidentiary hearings — and court appeals in which Smith sought to prove he had been the victim of capricious and arbitrary action at the hands of the council.
The meeting was explosive at times, as Smith’s representation, Columbus Attorney Dan Klos attempted to prove what he believed was a breach of procedure, and was, therefore, an invalid meeting.
Klos got into an argument with appointed Special Prosecutor Tom Spyker and City Council President Tony Dunfee, who was presiding over the hearing after Klos attempted to argue Spyker was not legitimate special counsel.
“I need a ruling on my objection,” Klos demanded of the counsel on multiple occasions.
During one argument, the conversation quickly shifted from the procedural question to who was allowed to speak.
“You be quiet,” Dunfee said.
“I have a right to address the witness,” Klos said. “Don’t interrupt me again.”
“I will interrupt you, I’m running this hearing,” Dunfee said. “Your attitude is out of line, counselor.”
At another point in the meeting, Smith leaned over to Klos and whispered to him (the audio was picked up by the microphone) that Spyker had leaned over to Sherman and had whispered something to him.
Multiple people then attempted to speak at once, and Dunfee called for order. Spyker said he was clarifying the line of questioning Klos was posing to Nelsonville City Council Vice President Sherman, who was acting as charging officer.
Klos reproached Spyker.
“From what I gather from your resume that you are fairly learned in these matters so I would appreciate it if you would conduct yourselves accordingly,” Klos said.
Much of the same evidence from the previous hearing was presented in Wednesday’s hearing, although in a markedly more legal manner.
Sherman served as charging official and stated he believed he had probable cause to charge Smith as not a continuous resident of Nelsonville, based on evidence he had seen.
However, the prosecution against Smith presented a statement from Washington County Sheriff Captain Brian Rhodes who served Smith a letter of intent to remove Smith at an address he allegedly lived at in Waterford.
The testimony states that the captain attempted to serve him with the envelope, but Smith refused and shut the door.
Spyker said the evidence presented as probable cause as well as Rhode’s testimony was more than conclusive that Smith was not a continuous resident and urged the Nelsonville Council to vote to find him not a resident.
“He is at the very least, living part-time, more than likely full-time, in Belpre or the Waterford township address,” Spyker said.
After evidence was presented, the procedural battle resumed.
Klos sought to dismiss the charges that the probable cause was not sufficient, and the city had failed to post the story in the newspaper of record (The Athens Messenger) 10 days before the hearing.
Dunfee rejected the attempt.
Klos cross-examined Sherman. Sherman often followed up with questions of his own, to the vocal protests of Klos.
Klos argued that the Sheriff’s testimony did not have a proper notarization and that the testimony made no reference to whether he lived there.
Klos also attempted to argue that the notice provided for Smith did not argue he was not a qualified elector. He even went as far as to argue the Nelsonville City Council’s previous decision stated he was a qualified elector.
He said he felt that was presented without context, and the following sentence of the decision stated the city was removing him for not being a qualified elector.
“If he’s not a continuous resident, how could he be a qualified elector?” Sherman said in response to a question from Klos. “The decision was that he was not a continuous resident.”
Klos argued that the city had already prosecuted Smith and had already seen the evidence that was presented on the record of the previous hearing.
Sherman disputed that.
“There was no prior decision made,” Sherman said.
Klos asked when Sherman received a letter from a citizen alleging Smith did not live at his house which he presented as probable cause evidence. Sherman said a day or two before the first hearing.
Klos went on to argue this could not possibly be probable cause for a hearing because it was presented as evidence collected in the original investigation. Sherman told Klos that he had never spoken to the individual about the matter before the hearing.
The statement presented by a citizen of Nelsonville then became a central line of Klos’ arguing that the meeting was not valid. He further argued that the resident in question had a personal vendetta against Smith, stemming from a zoning permit that Smith did not approve as Council member.
Klos also presented a business letter from Smith. He asked what the address read on the letterhead. Sherman said it was Adams Street in Nelsonville.
“Anybody can make up a letterhead,” Sherman said.
He asked Sherman what he witnessed himself that proved Smith was not a resident. Sherman said he would drive by his house at all hours and would not see Smith’s car.
Klos presented several scenarios through questioning that demonstrated instances where Smith would be at home even if his car wasn’t.
Sherman dismissed this notion.
“Counselor — are you trying to say every time I drove past his house, and the car wasn’t there he was there?” Sherman rebutted.
After over an hour of intense questioning partitioned by brief recesses, Spyker began objecting to the continued questioning of Sherman, and Dunfee sustained his objections that questioning on certain items of evidence was not relevant to the case.
Smith has been at the center of multiple controversies in 2021, including an instance where he was censured by Nelsonville City Council for using insensitive language on his personal Facebook page.
Following growing Nelsonville Council concern as to where Smith actually resided, and an Athens Messenger article that established a connection between Smith and a Washington County woman, Nelsonville Council launched a hearing into his residency.
In February, Nelsonville Council determined he was not a continuous resident of Athens and suspended him from Council, The Messenger reported. The body did not move to refill his position, as it promised to the Athens County Court of Common Pleas.
Smith suffered a series of legal rejections in appeal hearings in April before being reinstated to Nelsonville Council, including having requests for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction denied.