Seward addresses Bellmer decision
After the business items of the Washington County Board of Supervisors’ meeting were over this morning, board member Jack Seward Jr. read a prepared statement regarding the controversy surrounding the Washington County Conservation Board and the termination of former park ranger Bob Bellmer.
Seward said that he had received many public comments supporting the conservation board and its members individually. He also received a petition with 107 names objecting to actions taken by the conservation board. He gave the petition to the auditor for documentation and to be given to the conservation board.
“There has been information put forth for public consumption that speculates that (conservation director) Steve Anderson will hire his son-in-law for park ranger,” Seward said. “I have been assured his son-in-law, nor any other member of his immediate family, are connected with law enforcement. Furthermore, county policy on the hiring of family members and state law governing nepotism prohibits a family member from being hired in this circumstance.”
Seward said that he supports citizen interest in matters of county government that should be transparent, and said he would do what he can to ensure the public’s voice is heard.
He said that the supervisors have no direct knowledge of the incident and had no say in what happened. He said that citizen concerns should be directed to the conservation board.
“I fully support the public’s right to know what is their right to know and to be able to express their feelings, but I do not support any reckless rumor, innuendo, or speculation that goes beyond what is appropriate and respectful airing of those opinions and does nothing more than adds fuel to the fire.”
Seward said that he could go to board members, or to Anderson and question them about the facts. He said he hasn’t because it would overstep his duties as a supervisor and he did not want to put any of them in a position to disclose information that is not public.
He said his decision will have to be based on what he knows of the character of the conservation board members and whether the members could carry out the injustice of terminating an employee without cause.
“At present – I admit I wish I knew more — but I have seen no evidence that tells me they are capable of that injustice,” he said.
During the meeting citizen Les Zickefoose asked about an advertisement he had seen for a new park ranger. He asked if the supervisors would be asked to acknowledge the new hire or would the supervisors have the option of rejecting the new hire. Seward explained that the board’s acknowledgment allows the Washington County Auditor to place the person on the payroll. He said that the board, according to state law, does not have the authority to hire conservation department members.