NELSONVILLE, Ohio — Former Nelsonville City Manager Scott Frank, who resigned earlier this month, entered into an agreement with the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office to pay restitution to the city of Nelsonville.
In a letter obtained by the Independent through a records request, the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office notified the Nelsonville City Auditor’s Office of the restitution agreement.
The Jan. 9 letter came the Monday following Frank’s resignation as city manager on Friday, Jan. 6. The letter says Frank “has agreed to pay restitution to the City of Nelsonville in the amount of $3,262.35.”
That amount is exactly equivalent to the total amount the city paid Frank’s child in 2022 for working at the Nelsonville city pool, according to city payroll records obtained by the Independent through a records request.
As city manager, Frank oversaw city employees. According to the Ohio Ethics Commission, public officials may not employ their family members; this constitutes nepotism.
Frank did not directly respond to a request for comment for this story but in an email on a different topic said, “I’m patiently waiting for your article that’s coming with the info you got last week.”
Frank was apparently referencing the communication between the city auditor’s office and county prosecutor’s office, which the Independent obtained through a request sent only to Nelsonville City Auditor Taylor Sappington.
Frank defended the decision to hire his child at a Nelsonville Finance Committee meeting on Dec. 20, 2022, while discussing pool staffing shortages during the previous season.
“We had a young crew last year, and some of them were just told they were gonna do it, like my kid.” Frank paused for about two seconds before saying “my kid,” which prompted laughter from then-council member Cory Taylor, at large. Taylor resigned less than a week after Frank.
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“Volun-told,” Frank added. “So, people can scream at home whatever the heck they want, I really don’t care, we had 20 positions available and only 11 of them were filled, and one of them was volun-told by me.”
City pool supervisor Adam Bunting said, “We were short-staffed for the entire year last year. If it hadn’t been for [Frank’s child] and a couple other employees that I hired myself there, we wouldn’t have been able to even open last year.”
Frank’s child earned $10 per hour at the city pool in 2022, according to records obtained by the Independent.
Frank agreed to pay the full amount of restitution within 11 months of his resignation date, in monthly installments of at least $150, according to the letter from the county prosecutor’s office.
The letter asks the city auditor’s office to “keep our office posted regarding any payments received” and to let the county prosecutor’s office “know if you fail to receive any payments.” The letter says to direct any questions to the prosecutor’s office.
The letter does not say why Frank entered into the agreement, and Sappington said he had received no official communication as to the reasons for the restitution agreement.
However, Sappington said he assisted with an Athens County Prosecutor’s Office investigation and was aware that the employment of Frank’s child at the city pool was a concern of that office.
Sappington said he was aware that Frank’s child was a city employee last summer.
“My position was, as I told the pool supervisor at the time and was pretty adamant about: There should never be any direct supervision and direct hiring,” Sappington said. “I am of the belief that there shouldn’t even be a question. So, whatever the state law is, the city should go farther. Since then — the best I can say is, that division should be even further.”
Bunting said Frank had nothing to do with the decision to hire his child, who applied via the same online application portal “just like every other applicant did.”
Bunting said he was solely responsible for hiring and supervision of pool employees. He said he was supervised by the city services director, while his hiring and employment was overseen by the city.
Before 2020 (when the city hired Frank), Sappington claimed, nepotism in city government was much worse: “There were multiple family members hired and supervised by not just direct family but even parents,” he said.
Andrea Thompson-Hashman, daughter of former council member Greg Smith, filed a lawsuit against the Nelsonville CrackHeads Facebook page in 2020 related to the page’s claims of nepotism, according to court documents. Thompson-Hashman served as clerk for the city council while her father was a council member.
Sappington said he encouraged the city to institute new policies as a result of the problems he encountered when he took office. “Obviously, if there’s a major question lingering, then it doesn’t go far enough, and I want to make sure it does go far enough in the future,” he said.
Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said, “We don’t generally comment on cases with uncharged suspects or when agreements are reached, so I can’t [comment].”
Blackburn’s office denied a request for records about any investigation into Frank, claiming that such records would, if they existed, constitute “trial preparation and/or confidential law enforcement investigatory records.”
It’s not clear how the letter provided by Sappington under the direction of the Nelsonville City Attorney’s office would constitute either.
Nelsonville City Council President Tony Dunfee (who is Blackburn’s brother-in-law) did not respond to a request for comment.
Additional reporting by Sam Stecklow.
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