NELSONVILLE — As a couple dozen Nelsonville and area residents peered through the windows of City Hall and listened in on livestreams, the Nelsonville City Council voted unanimously Monday, June 22 to hire Greg Scott Frank as the new City Manager.
The vote came one week after a controversial 4-3 vote against hiring Frank, who has been the interim Manager since early February. Although the protesters let out a few cheers when Scott’s appointment was confirmed, Council is still facing scrutiny for the vote, with many claiming Councilman Greg Smith had influenced members Wanda Johnson, Carla Grant and Linda Watkins to vote no on Frank’s appointment.
However, other Nelsonville residents claim the 4-3 vote was simply due to some council members wanting an extra week to consider the vote. No matter the reason, Johnson submitted her resignation early in Monday night’s meeting. She provided no explanation but her resignation was approved unanimously.
Other rumors surrounded the night, and posts on the city’s Facebook page added to the confusion. Due to restrictions on public meetings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting was closed to the public but livestreamed on Facebook with options for citizens to issue comments or speak before council. Technical difficulties caused issues with the sound on the livestream, and the official city Facebook account initially posted the incorrect result.
Monday night’s meeting was also livestreamed and the public was barred from attending in-person. City Auditor Taylor Sappington alleged in the days following the initial vote that “bad faith efforts” had taken place both before and after the meeting to try and sway Frank from the pursuit of the position. Frank would not speak to the allegations, saying he wouldn’t speak poorly of his “teammates.”
“No matter how the chips fall, we’re going to work on things together and do what’s best for the city of Nelsonville,” he said at the time and launched into a discussion of what projects were in process or planned for the city.
Several residents have started gathering signatures on a recall petition that will be submitted to the Athens County Board of Elections to try and remove Smith from his council seat. The petition was circulating during Monday night’s protest.
The protest was organized by an enigmatic group of Facebook users who collectively control a page called the Nelsonville Crackheads.
“That Crackheads column has done a lot of good,” said Glennda Tingle, a Nelsonville resident and previous clerk of council. She explained the page also posts in-depth discussions of possible misdeeds or corruption in the city’s government, photos of known criminals and their whereabouts, and has helped direct enforcement in the city.
Tingle was clerk for a short time, and has been engaged in discussions surrounding allegations that the current Clerk of Council Andrea Thompson-Hashman had been selected due to Smith, her father, being on council and also confusion over the clerk position’s salary history.
On Monday, May 11, the City Council voted to approve payment of $2,700 to send “back checks” to city council clerks who may have been underpaid, including Tingle.
Hashman filed a defamation lawsuit in Athens County Court of Common Pleas in April, claiming she has been the subject of libelous claims through the Nelsonville Crackheads page based around the clerk salary rate. Tingle noted that she was told when she applied for the job that she was the finalist due to the other candidate having relations to a council member.
“I was fired so she could be hired,” Tingle said Monday while attending the protest. “They never told me why, and no one told me if I was doing anything wrong. I didn’t get any input on what the job required, but I tried to make things easier.”
She called herself a “sacrificial lamb” for what she alleges as Greg Smith’s agenda. Smith has been on council for over 20 years, Tingle noted, and many do not believe he lives in the city of Nelsonville.
Residency questions have long followed Smith, with his opposition alleging he lives in Belpre, and simply maintains a “home for his wife” in Nelsonville. Smith maintains he lives on Adams Street in Nelsonville. Hashman is not the only relation to Smith in city government as well, with his brother-in-law, Chris Johnson, employed as Nelsonville Chief of Police, who has been criticized for his actions as law enforcement in the past.
Smith has also been criticized by citizens for incidents when he was the police chief of Nelsonville. He was fired from the position in 1985 for “many incidents of misconduct,” including alleged sexual misconduct. During the protest, several individuals noted they did not believe Smith has done much to help the city during his tenure as a councilman.
However, many expressed support for Frank.
Residents pointed to his strong presence in the city and the increase of activity. Several road construction projects are underway on city streets, paid for through a combination of grant and city funds, and many have perceived Frank’s character as direct and upstanding.
Missy Perez-Clement, a Nelsonville resident involved with council, said she is “hopeful” with Frank at the helm, and said her interactions with him have been “overwhelmingly refreshing.”
“After dealing with all of the unethical — the corruption, the collusion that I have dealt with for the last 19 months, to finally have a city manager that has morals and scruples...it gives me hope that there is still life in this city, a life worth having,” she said.
Clement has claimed ex-Council President Sherman was targeting her with code enforcement complaints due to a personal matter. She claimed to have had a “Scoota Trailer” parked in her tree lawn for several years with no issue, but has recently been threatened a citation for parking it there. She said the threat came after having spoken out against Sherman.
The trailer allows her to transport her motorized scooter with another vehicle, and the clash spurred an investigation into council, originally just into Sherman’s actions, but then spread to be a blanket investigation of the whole council. Sherman was not found to be in violation of the city charter through the investigation.
“My plight with the city is far from over, but that had nothing to do with Scott and he just happened to venture in,” she said. “Having him as city manager, at least I know if I need to do a public records request it will always come to me — I will not have evidence withheld from me.”
She alleged that previous iterations of the city government, led by then-city manager Chuck Barga, had not given complete records.
Audrey Smathers was also present at the Monday night protest, and was in support of recalling Smith from council. She said that she believes that Frank’s hiring is just one battle of a lengthy fight.
“As much as they don’t like it, our voices were heard,” she said to others in the crowd. “We have to stay on this, we cannot live under these conditions.”
Council has not been the only source of perceived corruption in the city’s government.
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.