NELSONVILLE, Ohio — All’s well that ends well in Nelsonville. Except when it doesn’t.
Monday night’s regular Nelsonville City Council meeting seemed like a return to routine — about a dozen attendees, talk of the sewer plant, and auditor and treasurer reports. But the meeting took a turn during comments for the good of the order, in which council members share announcements at the end of each meeting.
First, council member Dan Sherman announced that he would be contacting Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office in regards to certain council members’ resignations and rescissions earlier this year.
“There’s been a lot of research done on the actual legality of you [Council President Tony Dunfee] and Mr. [Gregg] Clement’s council — as far as being able to rescind a resignation,” Sherman said. “So this has to actually go to the state secretary and the attorney general and that’s where it’s gonna head to clarify your legality.”
Sherman later declined to attend the executive session regarding personnel matters on the basis that he did not want to go to the “kill room.” He provided City Attorney K. Robert Toy a document to share with council, with “research” on the matter.
Following Sherman’s statements, recent council returnee Cory Taylor read a prepared statement regarding a council discussion that had occurred via email.
“So last week, an email chain was started amongst council members regarding [interim police chief and city manager] Devon Tolliver’s comments in the Athens [County] Independent regarding the June 12 meeting,” Taylor said. “The comments were aimed at a citizen of this community and by some council, they considered the comments out of line.”
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The Independent published a six-paragraph excerpt from Tolliver’s statement, which addressed comments Hocking College Board Trustee and Rocky Boots employee Stuart Brooks made during his interview for a council seat at the council’s June 12 meeting.
Taylor continued, stating that one council member wished to “reprimand” Tolliver for his statements, while another said that “nothing” could be done.
“I’m here to ensure that something is done,” Taylor said. “I too am outraged. The mere fact that we do not treat people equally or fair in this community is egregious; that Mr. Tolliver can make these comments, albeit factual, … yet punishable. But we have another city employee administrator assistant that makes disparaging comments regarding another city resident and former city manager, and nothing is to be said or done.”
Taylor referred to Rita Nguyen, an administrative assistant hired while Bernie Roell was city manager. While addressing council during public comment on June 12, Nguyen mentioned former city manager Scott Frank by name and said that “he was doing a great job taking funds and services from the city for his own benefit.”
Taylor suggested that Nguyen’s comments opened the city up to “liability.”
“To say the least, I’m outraged,” Taylor said. “We have folks in this community who feel they are elite, that they are better than others. Mr. Tolliver’s comments are simply standing up for those within his community. … These [Brook’s] comments [went] on to call Nelsonville ‘HUDville’ and continued repeating it throughout the meeting. No outrage here by our council members.”
Taylor said that he supports Tolliver and any former city manager or future city manager candidates who may feel the same about respecting people living below the poverty line.
Taylor went on before being interrupted by audience exasperation: “Because, unlike this citizen in which he is speaking out about, not all of us had silver spoons growing up, not all of us had family —”
Brooks, who was present, said “Ah, bullshit” and “Don’t go there” in response to Taylor’s “silver spoon” statement. Audience members encouraged Dunfee to call point of order on Taylor.
“I don’t want to hear that from you,” Brooks said. A woman exclaimed, “Ridiculous!”
Taylor stopped speaking before reaching the end of his statement, with discussion from Tingle. She noted that Tolliver reminded Nyguen and other employees after the June 12 meeting that “in that position, she had to be careful what she said and where she said it in regards to the city and city employees.”
Tingle added, “Nothing, apparently, has been done about Mr. Tolliver’s comments.”
She encouraged folks to “try to stay cool,” adding, “Remember that those of us who are not born with a silver spoon in our mouth like those people who were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, because sometimes they buy you breakfast.”
In a June 22 email obtained by the Independent, that Taylor referred to, Tingle wrote that Tolliver’s statement was “highly prejudicial and political in nature. As a private citizen, Mr. Tolliver certainly has the right to air his opinion in whatever way he chooses. However, as both interim city manager and, even more so, as interim police chief, the response was out of line.”
Tingle suggested in the email that Tolliver “needs to receive a strong reminder of his obligations” and asked Dunfee to address “this issue” and follow up with council members.
As Taylor mentioned in his statement, Booth replied in the email thread and asked how Tolliver’s comments differed from Nguyen’s.
In the email thread, council member Nancy Sonick — who motioned to appoint Brooks to council on June 12 — replied, “Thank you Glenda for that information and I am sure ‘nothing’ will happen to change what was put in the paper.”
Sonick wrote that Tolliver’s statement “was pretty hardball” and that until he issued the statement she thought he was doing “a pretty good job,” but “alas he is now a member of the club and will do what he is told by #1. And once it is made final that ‘she’ is back in office everything will become hunky dory with the administration and #1 will have his way.”
“#1” presumably refers to Dunfee. “She” likely refers to Tracy Galway, who was interim city manager from February to late March. Galway was in the applicant pool for the permanent city manager position, but withdrew amid a controversy regarding a mobile home trailer parked in the city. The position then went to Roell and the trailer was later removed.
In previous public meetings this year, Tingle described mobile home trailers as one of the city’s “downfalls.”
Tolliver was not present at Monday night’s meeting.
Nelsonville City Council meets every other Monday of each month. Its next regular meeting will be Monday, July 10 at 7 p.m. in Nelsonville City Council Chambers, 211 Lake Hope Drive. Meetings are also livestreamed on YouTube. Find more at cityofnelsonville.com.
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