The city of Nelsonville and an ousted council member are in negotiations to resolve multiple legal actions

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NELSONVILLE, Ohio (WOUB) – A former Nelsonville City Council member who was kicked off the council four times is still fighting his removal through six legal actions he filed against the city.

Photo of town square in Nelsonville Ohio. The town's fountain in on the left hand side of the image with buildings on the right.
The town square in Nelsonville. [WOUB]
Greg Smith is seeking vindication: He wants the court to agree he was wrongfully removed each time, he wants the city to pay his legal expenses, and he may even want his seat on the council back.

Smith’s attorney, Daniel Klos, said negotiations are ongoing to settle the cases out of court. 

The first removal happened in February 2021 when the city argued that Smith did not spend enough time living in Nelsonville to be considered a continuous resident. The city’s charter under Section 4.02 says a “member of council shall continue to be a resident and qualified elector of the City throughout his term of office, failing which Council shall remove him from office.”

The city presented evidence that Smith spends time split between two other homes outside of Nelsonville, in Belpre and Waterford. 

Smith sued the city two weeks later, arguing among other things that the removal was flawed because the city did not allow him to submit evidence in his defense. He then filed a second lawsuit alleging the council did not provide proper notice of his removal hearing and improperly made its decision in executive session.

The council reinstated Smith in May without explanation then voted to remove him a second time in June. It then reinstated him again without explanation later that month.

Smith was removed a third time in September, with the city again arguing he did not meet the residency requirement.

Smith filed another lawsuit, this time basing his arguments not only on procedural grounds but also challenging the language of the city’s charter. Smith argued that Section 4.02 is too vague and doesn’t give a clear definition to what it means to be a continuous resident.

In March, an Athens County judge ruled in Smith’s favor in the third lawsuit. The judge agreed with Smith’s procedural argument that when removing a council member, the city must first ask the county prosecutor to preside over the hearing. The judge said there was no evidence the city did this before hiring a private attorney to oversee the removal. The judge did not address Smith’s allegation that the city’s charter was too vague regarding what it means to be a continuous resident.

The judge declared Smith’s removal void, but by then the council had already voted to remove Smith a fourth time at a meeting in February. Smith was back on council after his third removal following his re-election in November. The city had tried to take his name off the ballot but missed the deadline.

Smith filed a court document in February indicating he plans to challenge the fourth removal.

Klos explained that Smith had to file a legal challenge after each removal to preserve his right to fight the decisions in court.

The cases are all moving through the courts, including a federal civil rights lawsuit Smith filed against the city in July. Klos said negotiations with the city are ongoing and he is optimistic a resolution could be reached soon. 

Kloss said the situation is fluid and that he is “moving with the tide … instead of against it.” 

WOUB reached out to Patrick Kasson, the attorney representing Nelsonville, who declined to comment.

Many of the cases have court dates scheduled in July and August that could move the litigation one step closer to a conclusion.