Bellmer responds to firing
Former Washington County Park Ranger Bob Bellmer said today that the reasons given for his termination were theft of gasoline, compensation time without supervisor approval, and time sheet issues.
On a paper titled “Bellmer termination statement,” which Bellmer said that he received from Washington County Conservation Director Steve Anderson at a meeting to discuss his termination and provided to The Washington Evening Journal by Bellmer today, a paragraph detailing items being reviewed also cited “multiple other repeated violations of the Washington County Employee Handbook.” The statement did not include Anderson’s name, nor did it have any space in which Bellmer or Anderson had signed it.
“After considering these materials and after receiving input from the Washington County Attorney, Washington County Human Resources personnel and two board members, I decided that you will no longer be employed as a park ranger for Washington County Conservation as of 4:30 p.m. on Monday, January 6, 2014,” the document read. “I am placing you on paid administrative leave effective immediately until that time so you can decide if you would rather resign from your position instead of being terminated for cause.”
Bellmer had a copy of the statement when he attempted to speak with the Washington County Supervisors during its regular meeting today. The supervisors had asked him not to speak, as there were issues they felt should only be discussed in closed session.
“I thought the supervisors deserved to hear the reasons,” he said. “They have heard one side of the issue and I thought they deserved to hear the other. They have been so good to come to our meetings and they are getting so many phone calls from people, I felt I owed them to tell them what was brought up against me.”
Bellmer said that he had never expected to be removed from his position for these issues, nor had he ever been disciplined for them prior to the meeting in which he was given the statement. He said that he had met with a human resources worker in late December. He said that he then received a call from Anderson the following Monday, in which, he said, Anderson told him that he couldn’t come back to work.
During a Jan. 9 conservation board meeting, it was reported that on Dec. 30, 2013 Anderson, Washington County Attorney Larry Brock, human resources staff and two board members had met to review and discuss all of the information dealing with a personnel matter, which is confidential. The people present determined there was enough evidence to require Bellmer to resign or be terminated. In a prepared statement to over 100 people who attended the conservation meeting, president Craig Capps said that on Dec. 31, 2013, the options were presented to Bellmer. At the time Bellmer had filled out and signed a resignation statement and left Marr Park.
Bellmer said the allegations against him included gaining comp time without supervisor approval and time sheet issues, which he said involved him working through lunch. According to the law, workers are required to take a lunch break.
“I had resolved those issues back in September,” he said. “I thought it was a done deal.”
He said the other allegation was the theft of gasoline in February 2013. He said that all the people in the conservation department had at some time loaned a mixture of gas and diesel fuel used to burn brush to county people to help them remove brush. He said that there had been times that torches used for burning brush had been loaned out.
“I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong,” Bellmer said. “When Steve (Anderson) asked me about it I told him I had mileage coming and I asked him if I could just take it off my mileage and not get paid for it. He said that was all right, so I thought that was a done deal.”
Bellmer said during the meeting, he had been told he needed to resign or he would be fired. He said he resigned and, after talking to a lawyer, he pulled his resignation and “forced them to fire me.” He said that during the Jan. 9 meeting, the conservation board had recommended that Anderson develop terms of a probationary period with Bellmer. Bellmer said that he had never returned to work. During a meeting on Jan. 28, the conservation board unanimously acknowledged Bellmer’s resignation/termination. In addition to Capps, the board also includes Lyle Moen, Liz Kaufman, Barb Donkersloot, and Bill Nickell.
“None of the board members appreciate having to do these things, but things have to be done,” Capps said after the meeting.
The Conservation Board is the entity responsible for hiring Anderson. Anderson then hires and decides on any disciplinary measures of all the employees of the conservation department.
Bellmer said that after having about a month to think about the situation, he keeps thinking his termination had something to do with Anderson receiving two citations from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for hunting law violations on Nov. 16. Bellmer said that he had nothing to do with Anderson receiving the citations. He also said that Anderson had gone to human resources two days after receiving the fines. He said at the time of the incident, he was on vacation.
“The question I ask is if Steve hadn’t received those DNR fines, would I still be fired today?” he said.
In a recent interview with The Journal, Capps denied that the citations had anything to do with Bellmer being fired.
“It is not true – it is not a retaliation,” Capps said today. “There are so many underlying circumstances that are just now coming to a head. It was not a retaliation.”
Bellmer said that he does not know what the future holds for him. He hopes to move on. He has been looking for law enforcement jobs in the market. He said that he did not wish to move from the area, because he was so thankful for the support he had received from the people in the area.