Janell Smith went to bed Tuesday not knowing if she would be forced to leave Huber Heights city council. She was exhausted, having spent most of the day holding signs outside the church where voters were deciding her fate, until the pastor sent everyone off the property when her 24-year-old son was cited for pushing a 16-year-old girl who supported the recall.
“I didn’t watch the results,” Smith said. “I was comfortable either way it went … I was exhausted. I didn’t know until the next day.”
Smith called a Dayton Daily News reporter early Thursday morning and gave her first interview since voters elected to remove her from council by a margin of nearly 59 percent to 41 percent, according to unofficial final results.
At times contrite, at other times defiant, Smith, 51, spent most of the hour-long call talking about how her political allies distanced themselves from her often acrid style, and reliving her enduring frustration with the city manager and other council colleagues — including the man she calls the “puppet master” behind her demise.
More than 800 additional people voted Tuesday to recall Smith than voted her into council in November 2015, a non-federal election year. That year, she earned 50.7 percent of the vote over then-incumbent Karen Kaleps, who had been on Huber’s council for more than a quarter-century.
“It’s nice for us to get the residents their voice back,” Smith told the Daily News in 2015. “We’ll work together as a team and get some issues taken care of. I couldn’t be happier.”
Quickly, progress stalled. In May 2016, after alleging sexual discrimination against Mayor Tom McMasters over how the mayor assembled the council agendas — an allegation McMasters denied and that led to no penalties — Smith told the Daily News that “giving birth in a Muslim country” was less oppressive than serving as a council member under the mayor.
The two men she came to council with on the “Team Huber” ticket — Councilmen Glenn Otto and Richard Shaw — said in separate interviews Thursday that they tried to counsel her toward better communication with others.
“I had multiple conversations about her approach,” Shaw said. Otto said the same.
“Well before this recall effort came forward, I had many, many conversations with Janell about her approach and her tone with other members of council and the general public,” Otto said. “My advice was never taken.”
Smith said Thursday she understood why the two others on Team Huber distanced themselves from her. She didn’t blame them.
“I think they were scared, and they didn’t want to touch someone who was so controversial,” she said. “I think that it determined the outcome of their projects or what they brought forward. I think it was a self-preservation mode.”
Yet another altercation came between her and City Manager Rob Schommer.
In July 2017, Schommer’s attorney said in a letter the city law director that Smith engaged Schommer in “a very unprofessional conversation and used expletives frequently.”
Smith denied it then. She did so again Thursday, comparing the allegations against her to the murder charges against O.J. Simpson during his sensational 1994 trial and the stigma he carried after his acquittal.
“It was almost like he was trying to get the public to feel sorry for him, damage my credibility and my reputation, and then quickly withdraw it,” she said of Schommer. “You can accuse people of things all you want, and once it’s out there for all to see it doesn’t matter if you take it back. People are going to believe you anyway.”
Schommer said Thursday that Smith “completely misconstrued” the situation.
“It was just a process to work through to identify ways to make improvements,” Schommer said. “The intention was to improve the working environment. The results of it ended with an extension of my contract and an improved work environment.”
In October 2017, when now-incumbent Jeff Gore was running for mayor, Smith accused Gore of assault, claiming he “used his index finger and poked her in the upper right chest area ‘really hard’” during an argument. A police report said multiple prosecutors declined to take the case. Gore has called the allegation “blatantly” false.
Gore’s campaign, Smith said Thursday, was funded by developers who are friends of longtime Councilman Mark Campbell. Gore said he is “proud” of the donations, calling it “no secret I ran on economic growth and vitality for our community.”
“The good old boys backroom phrase is just getting tired and old. It was a bill of goods sold to the community in the McMasters era and Team Huber, some of them, not all of them, are still buying that,” he said. “Janell could have brought so much value to the city council, but Janell was always involved in and tried to promote these conspiracy theories about the city and about council.”
Smith spent the months leading up to joining council demanding the city investigate Campbell for a photo of him at Walt Disney World with a developer. Campbell has long said he did nothing wrong, even providing bank records to demonstrate as much.
But despite the claims she made against him, Smith said she feels bad for how she treated Campbell then.
“He deleted his Facebook account because he said in 2015 he felt bullied,” Smith said, adding that because she has now been on the receiving end of similar attacks, she feels bad she “participated in something that made him feel so low that he could not communicate with his constituents anymore.”
Still, Smith said she believes Campbell has been “the puppet master” behind her demise.
“I think he’s been the head of all of it, to be honest with you,” she said. “Some people like to make sausage in the backroom, and some people like to make sausage in the front. I think he likes to make it in the backroom.”
Smith’s claims are “absolute nonsense,” Campbell told the newspaper, denying any involvement with the recall campaign.
Even with the recall over, Smith still has a lot on her mind. She’s concerned about her son, Alexander Smith, who faces a disorderly conduct charge after Tuesday’s incident and who has declined to talk about it with the newspaper.
“They’re trying to convict him on social media right now, and that’s not fair,” she said. “I want my son to have a fair due process without everybody else putting in their two cents when they don’t really know the full story.”
She accepts the will of the voters, but said she’s proud of standing up for what she thinks is right. She believes “wholeheartedly” she has been wronged, but said she wants the community to heal. She doesn’t want to feed into the circus, but points out that “there were wrong things that happened on both sides of the election polls.”
“I don’t regret getting into public service because I’ve been a public volunteer my whole life,” she said. “I regret being naive in thinking that it doesn’t get personal at a local level.”
She doesn’t regret it, but still struggled and choked up when trying to express her pain.
“I can’t describe it right now,” she said. “I did not know that it would come to this. I’m very hurt.”
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