HUBER HEIGHTS — An animated video turned out to be anything but a laughing matter at Huber Heights City Council Monday night.
It all started last December, when Council Member Nancy Byrge’s husband created an animated video that targeted Council Member Richard Shaw, Mayor Tom McMasters and Andi Otto, member of the city beautification committee and wife of Council Member Glenn Otto.
The video recently became public and Shaw and Glenn Otto filed a complaint against Byrge for distributing the video by placing it in the city mailbox of Council Member Janelle Smith. Byrge then filed a complaint against Smith for distributing the video. Under city charter rules, the mayor becomes the investigating officer in formal complaints about council members.
On Monday night, the mayor was ready to announce his findings. But he wasn’t the only one who wanted to talk.
It actually started before the meeting was called to order. Shaw held a press conference before the meeting, during which he said over the past five days, he has heard from many city residents concerning the video.
“Since taking office on Jan. 1, 2016, I, along with others on the city council dias (sic) have been labeled as racists, thieves, sexist, bullies incompetent and unwilling to compromise with others,” he said.
“I have provided all parties a fair opportunity to correct their mistake prior to any complaints being filed,” he said. “Those parties involved refused to acknowledge their role in order to bring peace to our community.”
Once the meeting started, everyone had their say.
Andi Otto was one of three city residents to speak to council about the video.
“Though there may not be a specific law or regulation violation according to our charter, rules of council, or the ORC, I will say that this is a reckless and blatant breach of trust and misuse of government property,” Otto said.
She was followed by resident Ron Deak, who complimented McMasters on his investigation, called the video bullying and called on Byrge to resign.
McMasters then explained his investigation and gave his recommendations.
“I think that council needs to go on record and say that we do not condone this kind of action being done with city resources,” he said. McMasters suggested council formally apologize to Andi Otto.
McMasters dismissed Byrge’s charges against Smith as having no merit, calling her complaint “an abuse of city processes” designed to divert attention from Byrge.
“I believe the city council should censure Mrs. Byrge for lying in the official statements and abusing the process,” he said.
McMasters said he was more concerned with the possibility that someone might have possibly altered city records concerning Smith entering city hall on Dec. 21 to pick up the video. Smith said she used her key fob to enter the building, but all fob entries are electronically tracked and there is no record of her entering the building on that day. McMasters said council may have to investigate to make sure fob system is working properly and was not tampered with.
Council members weighed in with their feelings on the subject.
Judy Blankenship said she did not receive a copy of the video and was upset that some people said she did. “This was never supposed to be public,” she said. “I apologize to anyone who has been hurt. It’s bad for our city, but it didn’t have to come to this.”
Glenn Otto said he and Shaw approached Byrge before a council meeting and she denied knowing about the video. “I was straight-up lied to,” he said. “There’s nothing we legally can do about this, but I think the public definitely, definitely needs to know what is happening up here and where it’s coming from. I’ve had my fill of it over the last 18 months and any time I see any of it I will speak up.”
Shaw then read his statement from the news conference for the audience. “The show of support my family has received from a large amount of residents and surrounding community leaders prove to me this type of behavior must be stopped,” he said.
Next in line was Smith, who said she got the video from her city mailbox and later gave it to Glenn Otto because of the content about his wife. She said she saw similar packages in three other council members’ mailboxes.
“The behind-the-scenes activities of certain members and even the direct slanderous comments made about other members by name in social media is a travesty and needs to cease,” she said.
Byrge then had the opportunity to tell her side of the story.
“I would like to say I am very sorry this video offended Mr. Shaw and his family,” she said. “It was never intended for public release.”
She said she did not know anything about the video until Smith texted her about the video. She said her husband gave the video to Smith.
“On May 3, Mr. Otto and Mr. Shaw threatened me, they didn’t just confront me, they threatened me in the lobby of city hall,” she said. Byrge said the two councilmen demanded she resign or they would make the video public. She said Smith was the one responsible for making the video public.
Glenn Otto responded with copies of emails from Byrge to a city resident about earlier videos her husband created. “My husband has made some funny videos mocking McMasters, he’d like to send them to you, would you like to post them on one of the blogs? I just have to stay out of it, they can remain anonymous.”
Byrge said “I did not create, I did not distribute” the video and that the emails about the earlier videos had nothing to do with the complaints that were filed over the Shaw video.
Councilman Ed Lyons then joined the fray. Lyons pointed out what he called inconsistencies in Smith’s story. He said there was no record of her entry at city hall on Dec. 21, so she could not have picked up the video then.
He said the timing of the complaint against Byrge – the week after the May primary, five months after the video was made – “smacks completely of politics.” He pointed out that screen shots of a text sent by Smith to Byrge on Dec. 21 did not match what Smith told McMasters concerning when she saw the video. Smith said she went to city hall to get the video after being called by Byrge, but Lyons said the time stamp of the text message shows she had already seen the video when the call was made. Byrge produced her phone with the time stamp that supported Lyons’ claim that Smith’s story was inconsistent.
“It appears that the conversation about having the DVD prompted the 18-minute telephone call that Mrs. Smith referenced when she looked up her Verizon record,” McMasters said in response to a question from Lyons. “Therefore, that telephone call could not have prompted Mrs. Smith to come to city hall.”
McMasters asked Smith to provide the texts with time stamps, but she was unable to locate them on her phone. She offered to contact Verizon to get the records.
Lyons pressed McMasters whether the inconsistencies in Smith’s story would change the mayor’s mind about his recommendation for censure. McMasters said yes he would have to change his mind and that he could no longer make that recommendation.
Glenn Otto didn’t feel the same way.
“I still feel the need to call for censure of Nancy Byrge,” Otto said. “It was proven tonight that she did lie to the mayor and to us about the knowledge of these videos and the distribution of said videos. A liar, a thief and a cheat are three things I can’t deal with. So yes, I would still call for her censure, I don’t want to do it tonight but I could do it at a meeting of the whole body.
“However, I will say that personally speaking the censure really doesn’t accomplish anything … I think that what’s most important is that you folks and everybody else out there were able to see all this process and understand all the information that has come out tonight and understand your representatives, who they are and what they stand for and have a better idea of your view of them in the future.”
After an appeal from resident Terri Clark for city council to work together and for Byrge to resign, council decided to call it a night without taking any action on the issue.
As it turns out, that was fine with McMasters.
When asked if he hoped council would return to the issue, McMasters said “I hope not. This was enough discussion, anyone can take whatever they want from it.”
Darrell Wacker provided information for this story.