Greg Smith gets go-ahead for Nelsonville City Council race

The controversial on-and-off again council member is now set to return to the body, as his election will be uncontested.
A panel of four sits at an elevated wooden table in a courtroom, with the American and Ohio flags and the Ohio seal behind them. A man sits at the witness stand, while an another sits in the foreground facing the panel and witness.
Former Nelsonville council member Greg Smith offers witness testimony at an Aug. 31 quasi-judicial hearing held by the Athens County Board of Elections. Photo by Dani Kington.

ATHENS, Ohio — One way or another, Greg Smith is coming back to Nelsonville City Council.

At an Aug. 31 hearing, the Athens County Board of Elections unanimously determined that the former Nelsonville City Council may run for a council seat in this year’s November election. Smith is one of three candidates for three at-large positions, so he’s guaranteed a seat.

City council removed Smith four times between February 2021 to February 2022.


The complaints

The elections board intended to consider complaints from current council members Gregg Clement, Justin Booth and Cory Taylor. Taylor is running alongside Smith for one of the uncontested at-large seats. 

However, only Taylor’s complaint was considered; Clement’s and Booth’s complaints were dropped because neither was present for the entirety of the quasi-judicial hearing. Clement attended the beginning of the hearing but left before his complaint was considered.

The board comprises Republican members Gary van Meter and Aundrea Carpenter-Colvin as well as Democratic members Kate McGuckin and Sky Pettey, who serves as chair.

In one of two letters to the board, Taylor claimed that Smith “does not meet the continuous residency requirements” per the Nelsonville City Charter. Nelsonville City Council has repeatedly determined that Smith lives in Waterford, Ohio, not at the Nelsonville address used in his ballot petition. 

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The council has repeatedly voted to remove Smith from the body on those grounds, most recently in February 2022.

“The city council has spent tens of thousands of their own dollars with their own investigation to come to the conclusion that he is in violation of the Charter and therefore his petitions should not have been certified,” Taylor wrote in an email to the BOE.

The hearing

To succeed in removing Smith from the ballot, Taylor needed to provide clear and convincing evidence that Smith was not a qualified elector in the city of Nelsonville, Pettey told the Independent. 

The board found Taylor did not meet that burden. Taylor attended the hearing without legal counsel and did not call any witnesses. He declined to make any opening or closing statement, and said the evidence “speaks for itself.” Taylor submitted a transcript of Smith’s most recent Nelsonville City Council removal hearing as evidence. 

Arguments at the hearing revolved around whether Smith was a “continuous” resident of Nelsonville under the city charter and met residency requirements under Ohio Revised Code. 

Smith and the only other witness — his daughter, Andrea Thompson Hashman — both testified that Smith spends substantial amounts of time at a Waterford home, where Smith said he cares for a mentally disabled individual. He said he provides this care in a personal capacity.

However, while Smith often stays overnight in Waterford, both he and his daughter testified that he always intends to return to his Nelsonville address. He said he returns “every chance I get,” including on the weekends.

Smith’s daughter testified that he and his wife have never separated. She addressed an affidavit she previously submitted to Nelsonville City Council, bank statements, voter records, and tax returns showing Smith’s Nelsonville address. She said Smith has never expressed that he thinks of any other place as home.

Although Nelsonville City Council repeatedly found that Smith’s time in Waterford means he is not a “continuous” resident of Nelsonville as required by the Nelsonville City Charter, the elections board did not reach the same conclusion.

Smith’s attorney, Dan Klos, told the Independent that the hearing “eliminated” the argument that Smith is not qualified to hold elected office in Nelsonville. 

Challenges to previous removals

Smith could return to Nelsonville City Council even before the start of the next term, Klos said.

Smith returned to his seat after the first two removals because of procedural violations by the council. Months after his third removal, he was elected to council for a two-year unexpired seat in an uncontested race, resulting in another return — as well as a fourth removal.

Smith has vigorously contested each of his four removals from the council, with multiple legal actions pending against the city.

Smith won his challenge to the third removal, prompting an appeal by the city that was denied in August. However, the city is attempting to demonstrate that the decision conflicts with another court decision in Ohio, which would set the case up for consideration by the Ohio Supreme Court. Klos said he will soon submit Smith’s reply to the city’s motion; Judge Jason P. Smith will decide the case.

Klos said the appeals court decision on Smith’s third city council removal does not necessarily have a bearing on the pending legal action challenging Smith’s fourth removal. That’s because the case pertaining to the third removal was decided primarily on procedural grounds.

However, if the court rules in Smith’s favor on his fourth removal this year, he could return to carry out the remainder of the two-year unexpired council term to which he was elected in 2021.

Smith was controversial even before his council removals. He was fired as Nelsonville’s police chief in 1985 for “many incidents of misconduct,” both the Athens News and Athens Messenger reported

A petition to recall Smith from the council circulated in June 2020. The same month, Stuart Brooks, whose family has long managed Rocky Brands, staged a ‘mini-strike’ by city employees to protest Smith and support then-interim city manager Scott Frank.

November election

Smith will appear on the 2023 ballot for a two-year Nelsonville City Council at-large unexpired term in an uncontested race, alongside Taylor, a current council member, and Jonathan Flowers, who has sought appointment to the council multiple times

Meanwhile, a contested race for full, four-year Nelsonville City Council terms will pit six candidates against one another for three seats. Candidates include current council members Booth, Doug Childs, Tony Dunfee, Dan Sherman and Nancy Sonick, as well as Rita C. Nguyen, who worked briefly this year as a city administrative assistant. 

Ngyuen made public comments criticizing former city manager Frank, which prompted a rebuke from Taylor at a heated June council meeting. City Auditor Taylor Sappington confirmed Ngyuen no longer holds a city position.

Sappington will also appear on the ballot in November for his uncontested reelection as city auditor.

The 2023 general election will be held Nov. 7. The last day to register to vote in the general election is Oct. 10.

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