Nelsonville City Council Clerk Andrea Thompson-Hashman filed a civil suit in Athens County Common Pleas Court last month against a local Facebook page, alleging administrators of the page committed libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The page, “Nelsonville CrackHeads,” was created in January and mostly features posts about crime and other city issues.
“We won’t steal your bike, we promise,” the Facebook page’s “About” section states.
Thompson-Hashman’s attorney, Sierra Meek, recently subpoenaed a group of Nelsonville residents, requiring they attend an upcoming court hearing “to testify and produce documents and/or tangible things.” The requested documents include Facebook information from Jan. 8 to present, any and all written or recorded communications with one another, and communications made in regards to the Nelsonville CrackHeads Facebook page, according to court documents filed on May 15 in the Athens County Court of Common Pleas.
The individuals specifically subpoenaed were Jennifer Love, Korey Whitmore and Shannon Neff. Court records indicated that Whitmore was subpoenaed on both April 30 and May 15, while the rest of the people listed in court documents associated with the civil suit were subpoenaed on May 15.
In addition, Meek has subpoenaed both Facebook and Google, requesting from Facebook documentation of any or all of the administrators or moderators of the Nelsonville CrackHeads page: names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses and other records, as well as documentation “identifying each administrator and/or moderator associated with the Facebook group,” according to court documents filed on April 24. Meeks also requested from Facebook copies of Facebook Messenger communications associated with the Nelsonville CrackHeads page from Jan. 9 onward.
Information requested from Google includes documentation of individuals, groups or businesses registered to the Facebook page’s email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
On April 23, Thompson-Hashman filed for a temporary restraining order against the unknown administrators of the group, referred to in court documents as “John and Jane Doe.” The order requests administrators of the Nelsonville be barred “from publishing any content which reflects negatively upon (Thompson-Hashman) and/or her employment pending the final hearing and determination of this action.”
Athens County Common Pleas Court Judge George P. McCarthy ultimately denied the restraining order.
Thompson-Hashman is alleging the Nelsonville CrackHeads Facebook page posted statements in regard to her position as Nelsonville City Council’s clerk, particularly in regards to her role’s compensation.
Thompson-Hashman was voted into the position of city council clerk on Nov. 12, 2018.
Nelsonville follows a council-manager form of government, meaning it follows a city charter. The clerk’s position is governed by the Nelsonville City Charter; according to the charter, the clerk is appointed by council by popular vote. Council then is tasked with setting a “reasonable” salary for the position. Salary must be set before a clerk is appointed.
On Nov. 25, 2013, Nelsonville City Council passed ordinance 53-13, establishing the clerk’s salary at $8,976 annually ($748 per month), according to documents in the complaint. This ordinance came into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
On Oct. 23, 2018, Glennda Tingle was terminated as Nelsonville City Council clerk. She explained to council after her position ended that the role of clerk requires several hours of work each week, the civil complaint states.
In November of 2018, Thompson-Hashman was appointed by majority vote to the role of clerk. Her father, Greg Smith, who is a longtime council member, abstained from voting and was reportedly not present during the discussion of clerk employment. Thompson-Hashman was compensated $500 per month until January of 2019, when former city manager Charles Barga approached her about City Ordinance 53-13.
Thomspon-Hashman was compensated for the underpayment and paid $748 per month after that, according to the civil complaint.
On March 2, the Nelsonville CrackHeads Facebook page posted that its administrators would be posting “about the corruption in City Council and City Government all week.”
On March 4, Thompson-Hashman posted to her own Facebook page a photo of her paystub and a copy of City Ordinance 53-13. A few days later, the Nelsonville CrackHeads page shared her post to its page, alleging Thompson-Hashman was “overpaid in the past.” Administrators noted they would look into the clerk’s payment information through a public records request.
According to the civil complaint, on March 20, city manager Scott Frank and auditor Taylor Sappington received a public records request, submitted by the email email@example.com.
Sappington fulfilled the records request and provided the Facebook page with salary information related to the current and past city council clerks. In the emails sent to Sappington, the email writer stated they were seeking to find out if “Greg Smith somehow set it up for his daughter to be paid more than city ordinance allows.”
Sappington responded to tell the email writer that until Jan. 15, 2019, the “system recorded the salary for the council clerks (Anne, Glennda, and Andrea) as $500,” before being changed that afternoon.
“At that date and time, it was changed to $748 a month, which was Susan Harmony’s salary due to her experience and long time in the position. It does not state why the change was made, it simply records the change in salary,” Sappington replied to the records requester.
The alleged defamatory statement is rooted in a March 31 Facebook post from the Nelsonville CrackHeads. The post stated that the clerk’s pay increased based on an ordinance that was “specifically for ex-council clerk Susan Harmony.” The post also alleges former clerk Tingle was fired by Dan Sherman so Thompson-Hashman could fill the open position. The Facebook page presented the information as being confirmed through Sunshine Laws.
Attorney Meek reached out to the Facebook page in a comment, which requested the page post information about any ordinance issued after 53-13 that changed the clerk salary back to $500 per month.
“Working on this,” a page administrator replied. “But since Garry Hunter (Nelsonville City Attorney) conveniently has certain documents not available on his website and since council refuses to answer the auditors questioning on the matter, we have red tape to work around.”
On April 7, the Nelsonville CrackHeads page posted a video of Thompson-Hashman singing, followed by media clips of vomiting. A couple of days later, the page posted a photo of Thompson-Hashman and her father, created into a meme with the caption “You’re hurting my feelings. I can’t hear you all the way from Belpre and over all the corruption.” Days after that, the CrackHeads page published statements about the April virtual city council meeting. The clerk posted a notice to the public to state that although the meeting will be held virtually and in-person attendance wasn’t permitted, city residents could email comments and questions to be read during the meeting’s livestream. Comments and questions that met the council’s guidelines and met the April 13 at noon deadline would be included in the meeting. One resident reportedly submitted a comment that reportedly met deadline and was not read aloud during the livestream meeting, the post alleges.
The civil complaint alleges that the Facebook post was created with the intent of injuring Thompson-Hashman’s professional reputation “by imputing that she is unfit to be clerk.”
Overall, the civil complaint demands judgment against the Nelsonville CrackHeads Facebook page “for compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $50,000 together with attorney fees, interest and costs.” Court records indicate a status hearing for the civil suit is scheduled for June 25 at 3 p.m. at the Athens County Courthouse.