Ranger may get second chanceBoard suggests mediation between department, Bellmer
Former Washington County Park Ranger Bob Bellmer may have the opportunity to be reinstated to his job. After conducting a public hearing and a closed session Thursday evening, the Washington County Conservation Board decided not to acknowledge the resignation or termination at this time.
“We acknowledge along with the public his dedication and hard work,” newly elected board president Craig Capps read from a prepared statement. “We recommend [to] director Steve Anderson that he develop terms of a probationary period to possibly reinstate Bob Bellmer to the position of ranger.”
With the advice of Washington County Attorney Larry Brock, the Conservation Board tabled most of the items on its Jan. 9 agenda until the next meeting. Brock did advise the board to hold an election of officers before conducting a public hearing on Bellmer. Craig Capps of Kalona was elected president. Former president Lyle Moen of Washington was elected vice president and Liz Kaufman of Ainsworth was elected secretary. The five-member board also includes Barb Donkersloot of Washington and Bill Nickell of Wellman.
Capps then read a statement prepared by the board.
The statement began with a paragraph about conservation executive director Steve Anderson, and that board action on Anderson had been completed. Anderson was the subject of a closed meeting of the board in December. He had been cited on Nov. 16, 2013, by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for violating two hunting laws. He has paid the fines, and the board decided he would continue as executive director.
The statement then said that information relating to personnel matters was turned over to legal council and Washington County Human Resources and other appropriate officials on Nov. 18, 2013. (County auditor Dan Widmer is in charge of the county’s human resources. Julie Lindner-Reid of the auditor’s office also handles human resources duties.)
“This was done to make absolutely certain that there could be no possibility that any necessary personnel actions could be interpreted as ‘retaliatory’ in nature,” Capps read. “The entire WCCB (Washington County Conservation Board) saw the need for a strong concerted effort to try to create a better and more professional work environment for all WCCB employees.”
On Dec. 30, 2013, Brock, human resources staff, two board members and Anderson met to review and discuss all of the information dealing with the personnel matter, which is confidential. The people present at the meeting found that there was enough evidence in place to require Bellmer to resign or be terminated.
“On Tuesday, December 31st these options were presented to Ranger Bob Bellmer in the presence of legal council and the Human Resources Person present,” Capps read. “Mr. Bellmer filled out and signed a resignation statement and left Marr Park.”
Bellmer was also placed on paid administrative leave beginning at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 6, 2014.
The statement goes on to say that Bellmer later filed a request to be reinstated park ranger.
Capps then told the audience of over 100 people in the Conservation Education Center that the board would accept comments and limit the comments to two minutes. He also said the board was videotaping the public hearing.
The meeting began a few minutes past the 4:30 p.m. start time, and the board took comments until about 5:45 p.m.
The majority of comments were spoken on Bellmer’s behalf, and the majority asked the board to reinstate him. Some wanted to know what Bellmer had done to the point where he was asked to resign or be terminated.
Moen said that the details are confidential.
Capps said that Bellmer asked to have his request for reinstatement occur during a closed session with the board.
After the people who wished to speak did so, the board moved to the boardroom for the closed session, which lasted about an hour.
When the board returned, Capps announced that Bellmer wanted to speak.
“After meeting with the board and the county attorney, I have to do some apologizing,” Bellmer began. “I’ve been disrespectful to Steve. I’ve talked behind his back in county sheds and other areas where I’ve been going. Some of it has been non-truthful. Some of it you probably could say has been revengeful. I need to fix this and restore the county board’s image now after what I’ve damaged and brought to this point.”
Bellmer also apologized to Anderson’s family and conservation board staff for the effect the situation has had on them.
“He (Anderson) did nothing wrong to me,” he continued. “Steve is a good person.”
Bellmer also said, “A lot of things were brought to my attention that I guess I wasn’t aware I was doing as frequently as I was.”
Anderson also spoke before the meeting ended. He said he had made some mistakes and that he has not yet dealt with all of the consequences of his actions. He said he would diligently work to get better at his job. He said he wants to work with the other staff to work out their differences and put them behind them and move forward as a team.
Anderson didn’t specifically say anything about the board’s recommendation to develop the terms of a probationary period for Bellmer.