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Huber city manager, councilwoman in dispute about heated phone call

Huber Heights City Manager Rob Schommer said Councilwoman Janell Smith engages in “extreme and out of control behavior” that could “foreshadow more violent outbursts”— claims made in a letter to the city law director and ones she vehemently denied in an interview with the Dayton Daily News.

Smith said Schommer is “setting himself up to be the victim of a hostile work environment,” which she says doesn’t exist, and “flat-out lied” in a two-page letter authored by Schommer’s attorney.

The letter details a July 6 phone call between the councilwoman and city manager about new street banners, which Smith believes are not of high design quality.

MORE: Animated video sparks outrage in Huber Heights

“Ms. Smith proceeded to engage in a very unprofessional conversation and used expletives frequently,” Schommer’s attorney, David Duwel, wrote in the letter. “Rob immediately advised Ms. Smith that he had two young boys in the car and requested she stop using expletives.”

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“Her immediate response was, ‘I don’t give two s—— … I’m in front of my 91-year-old mother and she is hearing everything I say’ and continued her diatribe,” the letter alleges. “Rob tried to be professional, as he always is, and suggested that this conversation be held at another time.”

“Smith, using more expletives, advised Rob that she was a council person and he would talk to her now. She then pursued a rant over the next several minutes, with more expletives and finally hung up the phone after advising him that he might not be working for council much longer,” the letter said.

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Smith: ‘Two cents’

Smith agrees the conversation “started to get kind of ugly,” but denies cursing during the late afternoon call, which she said lasted about five minutes before she hung up on him. She disputes Schommer’s account of the conversation almost entirely, beginning with her mother’s age — she’s 81, Smith said, not 91 — and the the graphic conversation.

“What I said was, ‘I don’t give two cents,’” Smith said, denying cursing in front of her mother and Schommer’s 13-year-old son and similarly-aged friend in his car headed to football practice.

Schommer — who alleges Smith’s actions were “intimidating, harassing and constituted coercion” in violation of the city’s personnel manual — “suspects that Ms. Smith’s anger was generated by Rob denying Ms. Smith’s request for her daughter to be paid as a volunteer for working on the (street banner) program, as he believed this would violate the city’s ethics policy,” according to his letter.

MORE: Huber mayor cleared in another complaint

Smith denies intimidating, harassing or coercing Schommer and said she told the city they could hire anyone to design the street banners, though her daughter had designed 16 banners as examples of the work Smith expected.

“I said, ‘This is the work I’m looking for. You can hire her or you can hire anybody, but this is the quality of work I’m looking for,’” Smith said.

Schommer’s letter also states the city manager, who lives in Englewood, will “discontinue any additional conversations about Rob establishing an interim residence in the city” due to recent events, which, according to the complaint, include Smith allegedly making comments about his residency on Brick City Town Hall, a Facebook page.

Confusion over letter

Before reporting this story, the Daily News asked Huber Heights Law Director Gerald McDonald how the city was handling Schommer’s letter, which was sent to McDonald on Monday.

McDonald referred the newspaper to the section of Huber Heights’ council rules dealing with complaints, and said the matter was “in the mayor’s hands now.” The mayor investigates complaints against council members.

The newspaper then broke the story online Thursday and referred to the letter as a “complaint” — the term used by McDonald to describe it.

Later Thursday, Schommer told the Daily News, “it was not my intent to initiate a complaint about a single council person, nor is the foundation of my concerns predicated solely with Mrs. Smith or any other single member of council.”

“If it has been interpreted as such, then that is incorrect,” he said.

Emails obtained by the Daily News under Ohio’s public records law show both McDonald and Schommer’s attorney used the term “complaint” to describe the letter.

“Dave, to initiate the complaint process against a council member a written complaint is to be made to the mayor. Am I to interpret this letter as such a complaint?” McDonald emailed Duwel on Monday.

Duwel replied, “Yes. It’s also a complaint that is directly to city and the council.”

The Daily News asked Schommer to explain the apparent disagreement between him and his attorney.

He said, “It appears to me there’s a possible crossover or confusion of specific processes.” He later added, “The attorneys have conferenced and I believe they have an understanding now.”

McDonald, who was working out of the office on Thursday, told the Daily News another attorney at his firm was handling the matter, and he was unable to get a hold of his colleague to learn what had been decided.

McDonald said, “As of right now I don’t know if this is a complaint against Ms. Smith or not.”

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