A collection of Facebook comments linked to the account of Nelsonville City Council member and former police chief Greg Smith led to council passing a motion of censure last week.
In addition to the censure, Nelsonville’s city council will investigate whether Smith is still a resident of the city, a measure Smith dubbed “a witch hunt.” The investigation will be held in-house and come at no expense to the city, councilmembers said during last week’s meeting.
All members, aside from Smith, voted in favor of the measure.
In addition, a City Council conduct meeting is slated for Feb. 3 at 7 p.m.
The comments in question, posted sporadically from 2013 to 2018 in a public Facebook group called The Old Agoura Debate Group, were recently uncovered by The Nelsonville Crackheads, a Facebook page dedicated to highlighting crime and other issues in the City of Nelsonville.
The page posted several screenshots of the comments on Jan. 13.
Many of the comments were associated with several posts about the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012. These comments used homophobic slurs and described Martin as a “thug.” Other comments were associated with posts about Chelsea Manning, a whistleblower and former U.S. soldier who came out as transgender.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinions, even if they are outdated. That’s your God given right as an American,” the Nelsonville Crackheads page stated in a Jan. 13 post. “However, Nelsonville’s elected officials should be held to a higher standard... saying all transgender folks are ‘perverts,’ calling Trayvon Martin a ‘thug’ and insinuating that anyone who dresses in hoodies and baggy clothing are criminals and ‘hood rats’ or making any sort of backwards comment about rape should NOT be acceptable by an elected official.”
Smith claimed during the Jan. 26 council meeting meeting that he was not a member of that group and thus could not have published posts or comments in it.
“They are not my posts, they are not my thoughts, and that is the end of it,” Smith said “I’m not apologizing for something I’m not responsible for.”
Smith deleted his account after the discovery of the comments, telling council members during their Jan. 26 meeting that he viewed the deletion as his only option to remove the comments from Facebook.
Groups on Facebook that are listed as having a “public” status have comments and posts that can be viewed by any user, but users must join the group in order to comment or make posts in the group. Users can leave a Facebook group at any time.
The Athens NEWS reached out to the four profiles who are listed as administrators of the Old Agoura Debate Group. Two of the four administrators, the only respondents to The NEWS’ requests for information as of Monday, said that they could not find evidence of Smith’s membership in the group’s archives; however, they both believed this could be a result of the deletion of Smith’s account.
The resolution to censure Smith was introduced by Councilmember Elizabeth Jones during the Jan. 26 Nelsonville City Council meeting. Jones said during the meeting that after seeing a post about the comments, she searched on Facebook for them, and found that they linked back to Smith’s account.
She messaged Smith, alerting him to the discovery of the comments and asking if he made them. He told her that he “couldn’t find” the comments on his account.
“We as a group have to say that we do not tolerate this type of language,” she said during the meeting. “I stand by the fact that as a city council, this as a resolution should stand.”
Smith noted he faced the same charge in 2018 with the Athens County Board of Elections when his residency was called into question.
The resolution (2239) states that “The City Council of the City of Nelsonville ... expresses its disappointment in the unacceptable conduct of Council Member Greg Smith in the language he used in social media posts.”
Editor's note: A previous version of the story inaccurately identified the nature of council's meeting slated for Feb. 3. The meeting will be a Nelsonville City Council conduct meeting.