Four Nelsonville City Council members resign, but three rescind
by Dani Kington and Keri JohnsonApril 4, 2023
NELSONVILLE, Ohio – Three of the four Nelsonville City Council members who resigned last week have sent notice that they are rescinding their resignations, said member Gregg Clement. City attorney Bob Toy could not be reached for comment regarding the city’s next steps.
Four resignations, three rescissions
Council President Tony Dunfee, members Clement and Nick Smith, and recent council addition Neil Sommers all resigned last week. However, Clement said he, Dunfee and Sommers all notified the city Monday that they were rescinding their resignations, asking to remain on council.
Council member Nick Smith said he will not rescind his resignation. He sent his resignation notice last Tuesday, March 28, he said.
Nick Smith was appointed 11 months ago to replace ousted former council member Greg Smith (no relation). Nick Smith told the Independent he resigned for reasons both personal and professional.
“I came in hoping to be productive and accomplish some different policy hopes that I had, and ultimately, I was really interested in building things … in terms of building a stronger institution for Nelsonville and creating positive outcomes for the people who live here,” Nick Smith said. “For a whole litany of systemic reasons, I didn’t really feel like I was having much success. I look back on 11 months, and I couldn’t really point to anything to say, ‘Here’s what I accomplished.’”
Nick Smith told the Independent he believes “personal conflict does play an outsized role in the decisions and the agendas and goings-on” within Nelsonville city government.
“In general, I think people are motivated by the desire to make the city better, but they sometimes struggle to keep that in view on the day-to-day — so the petty kind of personal conflicts can bubble up and sort of take over,” he said.
“There’s a fair deal of dysfunction, everybody could agree, in the city of Nelsonville,” he added. “If I couldn’t do the job well, I don’t want to collect a paycheck, even if it’s small, or hold that position, if I can’t be an effective council member.”
Clement said, “I was very sad that Nick Smith stepped down. I have a lot of respect for Nick, and I thought he was a huge asset to the city and never really got to shine.”
Clement provided copies of his resignation and rescission letters by email. Clement’s resignation letter, sent Friday, March 31, stated:
My cause for wanting to be on the council was to be a voice for the city. After nearly seventeen months, it’s been made apparent – the needs of the many have been outweighed by the wants of a few. Goals have been replaced by agendas – leaving Nelsonville to suffer the repercussions. Without the ability to work on a common ground of agreement, ethics, and rational judgment and discussion, it is with deepest regret that I hereby tender my resignation, effective immediately.
His rescinding letter, sent Monday, stated:
Through the solo journey of my decision to resign from the council, the same path has brought me to rescinding my letter of resignation. Without provocation or influence, I realize the city of Nelsonville is still in need of voices – strong, ethical, and rational voices. Because of my many years of dedication to this city, I am stepping forward to again be seated at the table where decisions will be made for the betterment and progress of Nelsonville.
Clement declined to comment further on his decisions to resign and to then rescind his resignation.
Both Nick Smith and Clement said their resignations had nothing to do with the city hiring local businessman Bernie Roell as interim city manager last week.
Sommers told the Independent he resigned on Friday, March 31, and that he was the last of the four to do so. His reasons for resigning were “complicated.”
“[Their resignations] kind of left me in a spot … where I couldn’t even hold a committee meeting that I had already scheduled,” Sommers said. “I don’t really know how to describe it. I didn’t feel comfortable in the situation … Being new to council, being placed in a situation I really didn’t feel comfortable in. And I really didn’t have a full grasp on what was actually going on.”
“The only reason why I even wanted to be on council was to help build our community and I felt I was in a situation where I wouldn’t be able to do that, where I couldn’t even have a committee meeting,” he added. “So that’s why I resigned.”
Sommers said he has since rescinded his resignation, as he’s “had a lot of [community] members reach out to me, and asked me to go back. And to be honest, I’ve been very reluctant, but I chose to do it because it is the right thing, at the time.”
Council member Dan Sherman said he has been “blamed for a lot of this controversy” because “I’ve always been the center of controversy.” Sherman did not specify the controversies in which he’s previously been ‘the center.’
He said, “I’m not quite sure what’s happening or why people resigned.”
“I know there’s probably rumors out there that I’m trying to do a power play, but I don’t want nothing to do with [serving as] council president or vice president,” Sherman said.
Dunfee did not respond to requests for comment Monday in time for publication.
The Independent submitted requests for the recent resignation notices and the rescission of those notices to the Board of Elections and the city of Nelsonville. The requests were not fulfilled by press time.
Last week’s resignations follow numerous in Nelsonville city government over the past six months. In January, following the resignation of former city manager Scott Frank, council members Justin M. Booth and Cory Taylor resigned. In February, council member Doug Childs resigned.
Uncertain legal process
It is uncertain whether council members who submitted resignations and then rescinded those resignations can immediately return to their seats.
Athens County Board of Elections Deputy Director Tony Brooks confirmed Monday that the BOE had received resignation notices from Nelsonville council members. Brooks said the resignation and rescission notices need to be addressed according to the city’s established process.
Likewise, Ohio Attorney General’s Office Press Secretary Steve Irwin said, “This is a local issue and likely fact dependent upon the city charter.”
According to the Nelsonville City Charter, council vacancies are filled by appointment, made by majority vote of the council. Sherman said he believed the vacancies created by the four resignations need to be filled by this standard process, even though the resignations were rescinded.
Sommers said it is his understanding that the city council must first accept or reject a notice of resignation; its next meeting is set for April 10.
“What I was told is [that] once I’ve rescinded it before they accept it, then it’s like I never left council,” Sommers said.
However, with only three members, Nelsonville City Council lacks a quorum. The charter requires four council members for a quorum. Nancy Sonick (Bumgardner) and Glennda Tingle joined the council in late February and sit alongside Sherman.
The charter does provide a process to fill vacant council seats when the city council is unable to do so; however, this requires the action of the city council president. Dunfee was president, but resigned. Clement, the vice president, also resigned.
New interim city manager Bernie Roell said he can’t comment on the process to replace council members “because I don’t know how far certain things have been taken” but “there is a distinct possibility that we will be back in full order very shortly.”