No public comment allowed
AINSWORTH — Of the over 50 people who attended the Washington County Conservation Board meeting Thursday afternoon, it was hard to tell who had attended to support former park ranger Bob Bellmer and who had attended to support the board, because no public comment was allowed.
At the beginning of the meeting board president Craig Capps announced to the people who attended the meeting that there would be no public comment taken. He said that the meeting would be conducted as written on the agenda. The agenda did not list any time for public comment. As the meeting ended, several people in the audience requested a chance to speak. Deb Williams, an organizer of a group supporting Bellmer’s reinstatement, asked how the board could be addressed.
“It’s not on the agenda — there is nothing on here for public comments, and I guess we don’t have to set up a time to speak to you,” Capps said.
After a small discussion with Washington County Attorney Larry Brock, Capps also said that for future meetings, the board does not have to put people on agendas who wish to address the issue.
Williams said that the people supporting Bellmer hadn’t been on the agenda at the Jan. 9 meeting when over 100 people attended and with many expressing concerns about Bellmer’s removal. Capps said the board had been “gracious enough to listen to your comments last month.” Several people in the audience yelled out that the board had lied regarding a probationary period for Bellmer, who had previously submitted a resignation. In a previous interview Bellmer said he had been given a choice of resigning or being fired. He had later filed a request to be reinstated as a ranger.
At the Jan. 9 meeting, Capps read from a prepared statement, “We acknowledge along with the public his dedication and hard work. We recommend
[to] director Steve Anderson that he develop terms of a probationary period to possibly reinstate Bob Bellmer to the position of ranger.” During a special meeting on Jan. 27, the board had unanimously approved Bellmer’s resignation/termination. Capps said in a previous interview with The Journal that the board reviewed all available information, including an independent assessment of the workplace environment at the conservation department.
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.
Capps informed the people present Thursday that the meeting was over. Williams declined comment after the meeting. Capps declined comment on the Bellmer situation and said that the board’s not taking public comment “will probably be from now on.” He also said that it is the board’s hope that the situation with Bellmer can be put behind it.
Many of the people who attended the meeting spoke of taking objections to the Washington County Board of Supervisors. Supervisors Stan Stoops and Richard Young were among the people who attended the meeting.
According to a statement Capps read at the Jan. 9 meeting, Bellmer submitted a resignation during a meeting with Anderson, Brock, human resources staff, and two members of the conservation board, during which he was confronted with evidence Anderson had turned over on Nov. 18, 2013. While the information was confidential, Capps had said that the people present at the meeting found there was enough evidence presented to require Bellmer to resign or be terminated.
Bellmer provided The Journal with a paper titled “Bellmer termination statement,” which Bellmer said that he received from Anderson at a meeting to discuss his termination. The paper 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. The reasons given for his termination included theft of gasoline, compensation time without supervisor approval, and time sheet issues.
During the Jan. 9 meeting, Capps addressed the speculation that Bellmer’s resignation being requested was in retaliation for Anderson being cited by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for violating two hunting laws. Anderson has since paid the fines and the board determined he would remain as director.
“It is not true – it is not a retaliation,” Capps said in a previous interview. “There are so many underlying circumstances that are just now coming to a head. It was not a retaliation.”
He said that the board calling in the independent assessor was one way to ensure everyone was treated fairly. Capps said the assessor did not know anyone in the conservation department. He also said the assessor only provided factual information of her findings and did not recommend any course of action to the board.