A former Nelsonville City Council member has filed legal action against city officials

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — A former Nelsonville City Council member is accusing city officials of conducting public business in private and is demanding release of their conversations. 

In a legal document filed Friday, Greg Smith is asking an Athens County judge to order city officials to turn over documents including text messages, emails and phone bills. 

“I suspect that city business is being conducted by email and text message instead of in an open council meeting, which the Sunshine Laws of Ohio require,” Smith told WOUB. 

State Sunshine Laws require that public officials “conduct all deliberations upon official business only in open meetings unless the subject matter is specifically excepted by law,” and make certain government records available to the public. 

In his legal filing, Smith said he observed council members “texting” and “whispering” during two separate City Council meetings, on March 11 and March 25. 

The day after the second meeting, Smith emailed city officials asking for text messages, phone bills and emails of City Council members, the city manager, and the city auditor for specified time periods. 

He later extended his request to include any other electronic communications. 

Smith’s attorney, Daniel Klos, said rulings in other cases have determined that texting during a public meeting is in violation of Sunshine Laws.  

“Those are public records that any citizen has the right to inspect. And I’m just going to inspect them to see if there was any potential violations of the Sunshine Laws,” Smith said. 

City Manager Tom Cangemi acknowledged in an email to Smith that it’s the city’s goal to respond to requests within three business days.  

Cangemi said in the email that once the city was done with other requests, it would get to Smith’s.  

According to Smith’s legal filing, he still has not received any of the requested records. 

This isn’t Smith’s first conflict with the city. He has taken legal action against Nelsonville several times dating back to 2021. 

Just months ago, Smith and the city agreed to settle several legal actions he filed challenging efforts to remove him from City Council. That settlement awarded Smith and his attorney $137,500 and he agreed to terms that included resigning from his council seat. 

Cangemi said he just wants Smith to go away. 

I don’t have the time to be at Mr. Greg Smith’s beck and call every single minute,” Cangemi said. “That’s why we paid him $137,000 to leave us alone.”