NOTE: Shortly after this story was published, Roell attempted to rescind his resignation as city manager. Read our coverage of the attempted rescission here.
NELSONVILLE, Ohio — Recently hired Nelsonville City Manager Bernie Roell resigned Monday night amid tension with city council members. Roell worked in the position for only about six weeks.
Roell confirmed his resignation but declined to comment further. Council member Justin Booth said Roell resigned at a Monday night executive session of Nelsonville City Council.
Nelsonville City Council hired Roell on a 90-day interim basis in the last week of March. Roell became the fifth city manager in four months, following Scott Frank, KJ Tracy, Devon Tolliver and Tracy Galway. Galway applied for the permanent city manager position but ultimately withdrew her application immediately before Roell was hired.
Tolliver, the Nelsonville Police Department interim police chief, is now interim city manager again, per the Nelsonville City Charter.
Tension in city hall
Roell emailed council members last Thursday to request a special meeting on May 15. The Independent obtained the message through a public records request sent to council member Dan Sherman for all email communication involving Roell and himself.
In his email, Roell said Nelsonville City Council President Tony Dunfee told him “that I am being manipulated by a certain council member and that most of council feels the same way. I made it perfectly clear to all council that I won’t be manipulated by anyone or persons on council. That the changes I’ve been proposing are coming from me and not certain individuals.”
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Roell added that he was “NOT going to be the City Manager that just sits in the office and manages the people” and that, upon accepting the job, he intended to “fix processes and propose ideas for the greater good of the city and the community.”
Roell said that if council members don’t share that vision, “then let me know and I can step down.”
“I’m not going to be influenced to make decisions on rumors, hearsay or supposed past performance,” Roell wrote. “I will make judgments based on the integrity, performance, and work ethic I observe by individuals.”
Council member Dan Sherman pinned Roell’s departure single handedly on Dunfee, who did not respond to the Independent’s request for comment by press time.
“Basically, at the end of the day, Tony Dunfee thinks he’s in charge of the whole city and tried to micromanage Bernie Roell,” Sherman said.
Early last month, Dunfee was among four council members who resigned and three who subsequently rescinded their resignations. Dunfee told The Columbus Dispatch at the time that Sherman’s behavior drove him and others out of their council seats.
Other emails obtained through the Independent’s records request show frequent tension between Roell and multiple council members — including Dunfee — from his earliest days on the job until last week.
In a May 8 email to Booth, with council members copied, Roell said he wished “rumors” would stop, as they were leading to “frustration and ill-will amongst the council.” The email was a response to Booth’s asking if “council people have recently been acting in city positions as code enforcement and as administrative assistants for the city manager.” Booth had not yet formally returned to council, but rejoined the body later the same day, following Dunfee’s nomination. Booth previously resigned in January.
Clement replied in the same thread and told Roell he shared Booth’s concern.
A day later, Roell emailed council and expressed disappointment with members Dunfee and Gregg Clement voting down an ordinance at the previous day’s meeting; the ordinance would have set salaries for interim fire and police chiefs as part of the 2023 budget.
“I spent 14 hours yesterday working at the city building amongst other things making sure those ordinances were ready for the meeting last night,” Roell wrote. “My time is extremely valuable.” He added that he wanted to put Nelsonville back on track and to ensure “this city flourishes and is great again,” but “I’m not sure I’m seeing the same enthusiasm from council members who still want to belittle each other in meetings.”
“The most difficult part of this job is dealing with the deception, trust, no response and rumors from council,” Roell wrote. “I sit there and watch in a public forum certain council members spend the entire time on their phone as if this is a big waste of time.”
Council member Glennda Tingle responded in the email chain that Roell’s email was “on the money” and added, “it seems that individuals will vote depending on their individual agendas rather than what is good for Nelsonville.”
Clement did not respond to the Independent’s request for comment by press time, while Tingle declined to comment for the moment.
Booth declined to comment on the specific circumstances that led to Roell’s resignation because he only recently rejoined the body.
However, he said tension in city hall is “one of those things that’s always been there. I don’t know whether it’s endemic to the city or what, but we need to find a way to make sure we’re all pulling the same rope.”
The path forward
Sherman said Roell’s resignation was “horrible.”
“I am disappointed,” Sherman said. “I thought Bernie was doing a good job. I think he’s the right person for that job. He’s got a lot of experience in running businesses and running all kinds of projects.”
Booth said, “We’re back at square one again, and we’re going to have to figure out how to get this thing going again.”
Sherman is not confident that the city can get back on track with the current council in place. When council has a president “that doesn’t micromanage, that doesn’t get involved in the day to day business of the city” and “council just does its job properly, then they can get a qualified city manager in there,” he said.
Booth, however, expressed confidence that “we’ll do a thorough search and find a good candidate” to replace Roell.
Keri Johnson contributed to this reporting.
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