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Kenneth City town clerk exits 'political, discordant' climate

KENNETH CITY — Town clerk Nancy Beelman has resigned, but she's willing to help whoever replaces her — for a fee.

"I realize my departure will leave the town with a loss in institutional knowledge and history, so I will continue to offer my services as an independent contractor/consultant at an hourly rate as yet to be determined," she wrote Monday in her resignation letter.

Beelman, 68, will work until Oct. 7, the anniversary of 21 1/2 years' employment with Kenneth City. Also resigning was her assistant, Marla Hailstone, 70. Hailstone's last day will be Sept. 28.

Mayor Pro Tem Teresa Zemaitis said Kenneth City will advertise for a replacement for Beelman but not for Hailstone. She said the council will also look at the clerk's job description and pay before deciding on a replacement. Beelman earns about $65,000 a year. Hailstone, a part-time employee, earns about $12,000 annually.

Beelman said Tuesday that she had thought for the past several months that it was time to retire. She had promised former Mayor Muriel Whitman that she would stay while Whitman was in office and only stayed the past few months to help Zemaitis and other newly elected members of the council get adjusted and learn the ropes. October is also the beginning of the new fiscal year and is a good time to make a break, she said.

"I'm trying to be nice to the town," Beelman said.

But some Kenneth City residents, who thought she regularly overstepped her bounds and played political games, might see Beelman's departure as a way to leave because she was at risk of being fired.

Beelman was criticized after the 2002 election when Ted Wiesner, an active-duty member of the Coast Guard, won a seat on the council. Wiesner had received permission from his commanding officer before running, but Beelman and then-Mayor Bill Smith made several calls to the Coast Guard questioning the legality of his council service. The calls prompted the Coast Guard to tell Wiesner he had a choice — his job or his council seat. Wiesner chose his job and resigned a month after being elected.

In what appeared to be an echo of that, Beelman certified Zemaitis in December as a viable candidate for Kenneth City mayor. But in January, after it was too late for another candidate to enter the race, Hailstone found an obscure clause in the charter banning public employees from serving as mayor. Beelman told Zemaitis she would have to get out of the race, essentially handing the election to Whitman.

Zemaitis refused and when she won by a landslide, the town council sued to have her declared incapable of serving. The suit was settled with Zemaitis' becoming mayor pro tem until the voters change the charter in the upcoming March election. If the charter is changed, Zemaitis will then become mayor. If the charter is not changed, Zemaitis would step down and be able to renew her legal actions against the town.

Beelman blamed Zemaitis for not knowing the charter. But many residents blamed Beelman, saying that a longtime clerk should have known the requirements for mayoral candidates. They charged that she was trying to throw the race to Whitman.

The criticism seemed to sting. Much of Beelman's three-paragraph resignation letter focuses on her good performance throughout the years.

"I have received many compliments on my ability, efficiency and dedication to the affairs of the town, and I consider it a mark of distinction that very few critiques have been directed my way," she wrote.

"But," Beelman concluded, "I feel it is imperative to withdraw from an increasingly political and discordant working environment."

Anne Lindberg can be reached at (727) 893-8450 or alindberg@sptimes.com.

Kenneth City town clerk exits 'political, discordant' climate 08/11/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 2:40pm]
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