Members of Nelsonville City government are condemning now-former member Greg Smith after they said he threatened them at the conclusion of a Wednesday evening meeting meeting where the body voted to find him not qualified for council.
The moment in question, also available on the city’s Facebook stream of the meeting, took place while the members were voting to adjourn after a lengthy and explosive meeting Wednesday night.
The meeting was convened to hold a hearing on whether Smith was a resident of Nelsonville. In the end, Council voted to find him not a resident.
The Council then was voting to adjourn, when Smith leaned into his attorney, Dan Klos, and appeared to whisper either “you’re dead” or “they’re dead.” His audio was captured by the microphone situated directly above the two, and could be heard clearly on the livestream. Smith made that same error multiple times earlier in the meeting while attempting to whisper to Klos.
Members in attendance, including Nelsonville City Manager Scott Frank, City Auditor Taylor Sappington, and Council Member Justin Booth all confirmed to The Athens Messenger that Smith had said “they’re dead,” rather than “you’re dead.”
Klos also said Smith made the remarks that were recorded, but not in the context of a physical threat.
Smith could not be reached after numerous attempts, and directed phone calls from The Athens Messenger to voicemail.
Klos said Smith was speaking directly to him, and the language was presented in a legalistic and rhetorical manner.
“The comments that were made, were made with regard to the legal functions that were going on,” Klos said. “It was basically ‘they’re dead in the water’ and it had to do with the way the vote was taken.”
He further argued the statement was intended as attorney-client privilege and not as a broadcast to the whole room, as it was received.
“When he leans over to me and says it in a lower voice than is used to address Council, that would indicate that information is privileged,” Klos said.
City Council President Tony Dunfee said that was not the way he read the situation.
“I don’t think he was (speaking rhetorically), I think he was mad, I think Greg was angered,” Smith said. “He said it at a point where he was angry and he was fuming.”
However, that was not the only verbal altercation following the vote.
According to Frank and Sappington, following the meeting, Dunfee informed Smith he would need to return city property such as a laptop and other council equipment.
Smith allegedly refused, and implied if law enforcement attempted to repossess city property, they’d “regret it,” Sappington recalled Smith saying.
“I was one of about ten witnesses who heard Mr. Smith exclaim about City Council ‘They’re dead,’ as they voted to remove him from council, last night,” Sappington wrote on Facebook. “When he was given a timeline for returning his city property, I heard him say that if any more officers showed up at his residence, they’d live to regret it.”
Dunfee told The Athens Messenger that Smith had insulted him prior to him requesting the property back.
Frank told The Messenger that Smith had not returned property the previous time he was removed from council.
Klos acknowledged an interaction did occur, but told The Messenger he was facing away when it happened, and did not remember Smith’s specific response to Dunfee.
“I don’t recall the exact language at this time, I really don’t,” Klos said.
He said he believed Dunfee was engaging in a “provocative” manner toward Smith.
“Why would anyone other than to provoke a response say something like ‘give our stuff back in 48 hours or we’ll send the cops out to get it?’” Klos said. “That’s provocative.”
Dunfee said he believed nothing about his tone was provocative.
“I wasn’t even trying to infuriate him at all,” Dunfee said.
Members of city government denounced what they said was a physical threat from Smith.
Frank said he is not sure what action the city might take just yet, but he said he will not stand for threats of violence.
“I can’t stand threats — I don’t think it’s safe to be forced to work with people who threaten physical harm,” Frank said. “I get he’s elected — I understand that — but if you’re threatening people with harm to get your way, do you really have a place as an elected official?”
Dunfee said the ordeal was sad.
“I just kind of looked at him and was like, ‘are you kidding me?’” Dunfee said. “I was in awe and shocked, it’s a very sad situation when someone goes to that level.”
Sappington wrote on Facebook that he is glad to see that Smith has been removed from office.
“This is a dangerous way to talk and is the stuff you hear before someone gets hurt,” Sappington wrote. “As a citizen and leader in our City, I am grateful to see this corruption ripped out, root and stem.”
Nelsonville City Council Vice President Dan Sherman said he was on the other side of the room and did not hear it, but did hear it on video. He said he believes it is “par for the course,” and that Smith is capable of such behavior.
“I find that (threat) very viable because he does carry a gun and he’s not beyond that I wouldn’t think,” Sherman.
Dunfee agreed with Sherman, saying he believed Smith had very little to lose.
“When a bully reaches his wits end because nothing’s working — what happens — what happens in today’s society?” Dunfee said.
“That’s what he does, he threatens people.”
Booth told The Athens Messenger that he believed Smith’s conduct Wednesday was “disgraceful.” He added he is taking the threat seriously.
“His disgraceful and menacing threat toward City Council cannot be tolerated,” Booth said. “I speak for myself when I say that I will protect my family and myself from any violent behavior and I am taking his threat very seriously.”
Nelsonville Police Chief Scott Fitch said his department was informed of the allegations and said NPD was investigating.
He added that his office takes the allegations of threats against city employees seriously.
“Any threat of that nature is uncalled for, and is certainly not welcomed, and I take them all seriously,” Fitch said. “There is never a time or place where those comments are justified — but never at a formal meeting.”
Ironically enough, during Wednesday’s meeting, Klos tried to rebut an accusation from Sherman, who openly suggested Smith had threatened a witness used in the previous hearing of Smith.
“Why isn’t (the previous witness) here tonight?” Klos asked Sherman, who he was cross-examining earlier in the meeting, before the alleged threat.
“Probably because (Smith) already threatened him,” Sherman said.
“I’m going to object to that,” Klos said. “Do you have any information from any witnesses that have come forward and provided you specific information for this hearing that Mr. Smith has been engaged in any threatening or intimidating behavior?”
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 Nelsonville 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.
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.
Earlier this month, Nelsonville City Council appointed special counsel to prosecute pending removal proceedings against Smith ahead of Wednesday’s special hearing.
Dunfee said the whole affair with Smith in 2021 has been a “black eye” on city government.
“It’s just really sad this is what takes place in our town,” Dunfee said.