Within 24 hours of announcing his resignation as Nelsonville City Manager, Bernie Roell emailed the city council to rescind that resignation. Two council members disputed Roell’s rescission, while others argued it should be accepted.
Roell attempted to reenter his office to work Wednesday morning, but it is unclear whether he was able to do so. He wrote in a 9:07 a.m. email to city council obtained by the Independent, “Dear Council, I need the keys to my office please return them ASAP.”
Around 10:45 a.m., Nelsonville City Auditor Taylor Sappington said Roell had left the building. However, Sappington said he did not know whether Roell had been able to access the city manager’s office. Roell could not be immediately reached for comment for this story.
Roell resigned Monday amid tension with city council members. Roell confirmed his resignation to the Independent Tuesday morning.
By the evening, he changed his tune. In an email obtained by the Independent through a public records request, Roell wrote, “Dear Council, I’m letting you know that I’m rescinding my resignation and will be back in the office in the morning. I promised the community and employees that I would work to… make Nelsonville a better and more welcoming community for the greater good I intend to keep my promise.”
Council member Dan Sherman replied, “I am happy to hear this maybe the city still has [a] chance. Welcome back.” Member Glennda Tingle responded similarly: “That is good news indeed. I am delighted to hear that.”
However, council president Tony Dunfee, whose behavior Sherman claimed was responsible for Roell’s initial resignation, did not accept the rescinded resignation.
“You are not elected that’s not how this works,” Dunfee wrote to Roell, with council members copied. “If you wish to reapply for the job let us know. Your resignation has been accepted.”
Dunfee’s response prompted debate among council members.
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Tingle responded, “That’s exactly how it works. He did not submit an official letter of resignation. His resignation was not accepted by the council; therefore, he can rescind it, much as you, Neil, and Gregg did.”
Early last month, Dunfee and council members Gregg Clement and Neil Sommers resigned from council and then rescinded their resignations. At the time, Sherman argued the members could not return to their seats without a vote from council. However, at the next council meeting, council proceeded as if the resignations had never happened.
Tingle argued in the email thread that the incident established a “precedent… which is applicable to this situation.” Council member Nancy Sonick agreed.
Dunfee said Roell’s resignation could not be so easily reversed, however. “This is not a debate,” Dunfee wrote to his fellow council members. “Police chief is acting city per the charter.”
Per the Nelsonville City Charter, the city police chief becomes city manager in the event of the vacancy in that office. When Roell announced his resignation, that appeared to leave the city manager position to interim Nelsonville Police Department Chief Devon Tolliver.
The charter contains processes for council to remove a city manager but does not clearly spell out a process in the event of the city manager’s resignation.
Tingle replied to Dunfee, “We don’t need an acting manager; we have one. And you are right; it is not a debate.” In a subsequent email, Tingle added, “Bernie rescinded his resignation less than 24 hours after he made the statement, which you may recall was spoken in anger following some very heated exchanges. He deserves your cooperation in this matter.”
Roell resigned during a Nelsonville City Council executive session, which he requested to discuss his role after comments from Dunfee apparently left him frustrated.
Sonick chimed in on the email thread, writing to Dunfee, “No one has mentioned your name but all are very upset about this and aware who you are. We all knew you and Taylor (the Nelsonville City Auditor) were out to get Bernie but I am the only one to say it. You were screaming and pounding on the table last night which is not a sign of good leadership. I am sorry to say last night was not the first time.
“Please rethink what you are doing and know I do NOT have an issue with you. But I do have an issue with your outbursts. I realize that some council members will try to shame me for my not so eloquent words and you may to kick me off council but the truth is the truth.”
Asked about Sonick’s statement that he and Dunfee were “out to get Bernie,” Sappington said in an interview, “It’s just not true. I’ve spoken with Bernie every day since he’s been here. We’ve worked on difficult issues together.”
Sappington claimed Sonick’s primary goal on taking office was “to get rid of the city auditor.” As a result, Sappington doesn’t “take what she says to have much weight whatsoever.”
Sappington added, “When we’re here to do a job, and we’re professionals — and especially in my office where we have done such an intense focus on results-based work, that type of ankle-biting and fear-mongering and rumor-milling, it’s just beneath the title she holds.”
Sonick did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sherman accused Dunfee of single-handedly attempting to remove Roell, writing, “We are a body of 7 not one. You can not make this decision on your own. BERNIE is still city manager.”
Dunfee said in an interview that comments from Sonick and Sherman bother him, but “they’re entitled to their opinion.”
Roell “has a lot of great ideas” and “is a very smart individual,” Dunfee said.
“I’m not for embarrassing the town of Nelsonville or causing any more heartache or any more issues,” Dunfee added. “I just really want what’s best for the city, and if we can work it out with Bernie then so be it. I just want to move forward and make sure that we have the correct employees in place to do that.”
Dunfee wrote an email to City Attorney Bob Toy seeking his input: “Bernie resigned last night in executive session and tonight he wants to come back. He confirmed his resignation in the Athens independent. No vote was taken to accept resignation. What are our options?”
A response from Toy was not included in the records obtained by the Independent. Toy did not return the Independent’s request for comment by press time.
Early Wednesday morning, council member Justin Booth wrote to council, “I suggest that Mr. Roell be placed on paid administrative leave pending legal advice from the city attorney.”
Council member Neil Sommers replied, “I don’t think administrative leave is the answer.” This prompted Booth to clarify, “Just until the question is resolved is what I was thinking so everyone is clear on the path forward.”
In a separate email thread, after Roell requested the keys to his office, Sommers wrote, “I don’t have an issue with Bernie returning work.”
Sherman responded, “Bernie is our city manager… There is to much work to be done to keep playing these games. Tony is not the majority of council he has no more power then any one else. Our path forward is clear.”
“And you are not the legal authority,” Booth replied. “That is why we have a city attorney to interpret and advise on these matters. There is no harm in getting legal advice. As a matter of fact, it’s our responsibility to make sure things are done ethically and legally.”
In the final email in the thread obtained by the Independent, Sonick wrote, “It is noted that when our president can not get his way he goes to Mr. Toy to back him… This is a petty bunch of BS.”
Sappington said that despite the chaos in city government, city hall continued to function Wednesday morning.
“We’re doing our best to do the work, show the results and let the other folks figure out the stuff that they’re tasked with figuring out,” Sappington said.
He added that his office can only do so much, however, without written mission, vision and values statements shared across the city, or a comprehensive plan to guide the city. In the absence of such shared goals and plans, Sappington said, “You’re just left with arbitrary decision making, and right now, statements and decisions seem quite arbitrary.”
Nelsonville city government has seen high turnover in the city manager office, on city council and in the city police department in recent months. When he was appointed city manager, Roell became the fifth person to hold the office in 2023.
Dunfee said the city will only stabilize its government once council members, “Sit down, look each other in the eye and settle our differences with factual information, and let all the other stuff go. We’re a team… We’re seven people trying to make a community better. By arguing and fighting, you’re not achieving anything.”
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