Status of Nelsonville city manager remains unclear as city warns of legal action

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NELSONVILLE, Ohio (WOUB) – The city of Nelsonville has warned of possible legal action against the city manager who resigned last week but continued to try to perform the duties of the position.

Bernie Roell said Wednesday he would stop trying to work as city manager but that he hasn’t given up his efforts to reclaim the position.

Roell had been trying to work the job from home until he received an email from the city’s attorney saying he could face civil or criminal charges if he continued to portray himself as the city manager.

“Please stop portraying yourself as the city manager immediately. Please stop sending emails portraying yourself as the city manager. … Continuing to portray yourself as the city manager of Nelsonville when you are not the city manager could open you up to civil and criminal penalties,” Toy wrote in the email.

Roell resigned on May 15 during a City Council executive session. He said he did so because he was upset about the behavior of a council member. Within 24 hours, Roell rescinded his resignation. Roell said when he went to City Hall the following day, the locks to the city manager’s office had been switched out, and he had no computer access.

Bernie Roell poses for a portrait
Bernie Roell [Courtesy Athens Messenger]
The City Council met on Monday in part to resolve the city manager issue. Before the meeting, a poster made its way around town with the words, “Support Bernie. Show your support for the city manager. If you want our city to thrive, please get involved before it’s too late.” 

All of the seats in the council chambers were full 20 minutes before the meeting started. As the start time neared, residents lined the walls, and some stood in the hallways because capacity had been reached. A petition to rehire Roell made its way around the room, with the signatures filling at least two pages. 

Before the meeting started, there was commotion over why several police officers were in the room. Some people who thought the officers were there to remove Roell from the room shouted for the officers to leave.

Police Chief Devon Tolliver later told WOUB the officers were present because the crowd was so large. 

Once the meeting was underway, some residents spoke in favor of keeping Roell as city manager. No residents spoke against this.

Roell also used the time to address the public. He said because he never wrote an official letter of resignation that was approved by the council, he reserved the right to rescind his resignation.

Council President Anthony Dunfee tried to end the meeting before discussing Roell’s position, but Councilman Dan Sherman spoke up before Dunfee could adjourn the meeting. Sherman made a motion to give Roell his keys, computer access and position back.

The council voted 3-3, and the meeting ended shortly after despite not officially adjourning. Dunfee was the first council member to leave. He went out the back door, which slammed shut, which angered some people in the audience, who were standing up and shouting. Many of the people in attendance were supporters of Roell and were not happy with the outcome of the meeting. 

On Tuesday, Roell attempted to go back to work, only to find the police had barred the office doors, prohibiting his entry. 

Under the city charter, the chief of police can step in when the city’s manager’s office is vacant. Chief Devon Tolliver was in the office on Tuesday after Roell’s entry was blocked. Tolliver told WOUB the city is following the city charter and a legal opinion from city attorney Toy.

In that opinion, Toy wrote that the council “was not required to formally accept Mr. Roell’s resignation. Even if it could be argued that Mr. Roell could withdraw his resignation, it was too late when Mr. Roell withdrew his resignation.”

Clarification: The headline and opening paragraphs of this story were changed to reflect the fact that while Roell has agreed to stop trying to perform the duties of city manager, he has not given up trying to reclaim the position.