Nelsonville City Council Member Sues Fellow Council Members Over Removal Votes

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NELSONVILLE, Ohio (WOUB) — A Nelsonville City Council member is suing his fellow council members in federal court over efforts to remove him from office.

Greg Smith alleges in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the council’s actions violated multiple constitutional rights, including his right to due process and free speech.

WOUB reached out to members of Nelsonville City Council, who declined to comment about the lawsuit.

The City Council voted twice, first in February then again in June, to remove Smith. Council members claimed he is not a continuous resident of the city, a requirement to remain on council. 

But after each of those votes, council members ended up voting to rescind their decision without explanation.

Smith’s lawsuit focuses largely on the section of the Nelsonville city charter council members used as the basis for attempting to remove him.

Section 4.02 says a council member “shall continue to be a resident and qualified elector of the City throughout his term of office.”

Evidence was presented that in addition to his home in Nelsonville, Smith also spends time living in two other homes, one in Belpre and the other in Waterford.

In his lawsuit, Smith says the charter section is too vague because it does not clearly define what is meant by “continue to be a resident.”

Smith also alleges that the charter section is preempted by state election law, which specifies residency requirements. He says that if his fellow council members want to remove him, they have to follow the procedure under state law, which involves filing a challenge with the Athens County Board of Elections.

Smith is asking the court to declare that Section 4.02 is void because it is too vague and also to declare that state law should be used when it comes to residency requirements and removing a council member for this reason.

The lawsuit also alleges that the council violated Smith’s free speech rights by not allowing him to attend the executive session in February where council members first discussed the evidence regarding his residency.

Smith was instead escorted by a police officer out of the council chamber and into a lobby area to wait until the executive session was over.

Smith claims that under the city charter, he was entitled to sit in on the session even if he could not participate in any decisions.

The lawsuit alleges several other procedural flaws with the removal efforts. For example, it alleges that under the city’s charter the county prosecutor or someone designated by the prosecutor should handle removal proceedings. And if the prosecutor refuses, the council must appoint a special prosecutor.

This did not happen at the February hearing, but the council did appoint a special prosecutor for the June hearing.

The lawsuit alleges that the June hearing also violated the city’s charter because the council did not provide proper public notice.

Smith is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, and he also wants the city to cover the more than $19,000 he spent defending himself against the removal proceedings.