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Commissioners bump heads over treasurer's future

Bill Bellamy uses strong words to criticize colleague Mary Zemke
News Editor
   May 28, 2003 — Commissioners Bill Bellamy and Mary Zemke bumped heads Thursday over the future of the county treasurer's office with scathing words that put the weight of public testimony under the microscope.
   The commission ultimately chose not to pursue any course of action until it can gather more input on three proposals for reorganizing the treasurer's office.
   Zemke, attending the meeting by speaker phone from her home, where she's recovering from injuries sustained in an auto accident, made a motion to appoint tax deputy Deena Goss Treasurer for the remainder of Bonnie Namenuk's four-year term.
   But the motion died without a second. And Zemke questioned Commissioner Walt Ponsford's and Bellamy's commitment to the public after two separate hearings — on May 8 and May 15 — where testimony overwhelmingly was in opposition to reorganizing the treasurer's office.
   "So we are going to discount it?" Zemke said of the testimony.
   Previous commissioners, Zemke argued, ignored public testimony in favor of their own preferences. "I want you to know that that is one of the kinds of issues I won this election on."
   Zemke's comments were met with a fierce response from Bellamy, who called her actions "unconscionable."
   He accused her of sending an anonymous letter to each of the county's 29 taxing districts — which she did not deny — encouraging them to testify against the proposals that purportedly would consolidate power under the county administrator instead of elected officials.
   "You tell me what you ran on and I'll tell you this: That was another blindside to Walt and I," Bellamy said of the letter, adding that he's seen more "underhanded" things done in the past three months than in his previous six years as a commissioner.
   "So don't tell me what you ran on," Bellamy continued. "I know what you ran on, and that unsigned letter was a classic example of exactly what you professed you weren't going to do."
   Zemke did not offer a response to Bellamy's choice words. And with that, the discussion on the treasurer's office was postponed indefinitely.
   Ponsford, the commission chairman, said afterward he would try to remain objective and keep personalities out of future discussions.
   "I will make sure everything is considered," Ponsford said. "I'm not going to be pushed into something before it's time and I felt that was attempted."
   The scenarios for the future of the treasurer's office include maintaining the status quo, moving the tax collection duties to the assessor's office and a third option that also moves the tax collecting duties while reducing the treasurer to a part-time position.
   That last option could save the county an estimated $61,000 annually.
   At two previous hearings, 16 individuals testified on the proposals. Almost all of them opposed any changes.
   "I think at these meetings, one side was encouraged to come forward," Ponsford said.
   That certainly was Bellamy's sentiments. He said Thursday the commission would be unwise to make a hasty decision based on the comments of "10 to 15" people, and he suggested Zemke's anonymous letter to the taxing districts was the latest of "two or three blindsides."
   The commission will entertain comments within the next month from state and county officials that already have reorganized their treasurer's offices, Ponsford said.
   "As one commissioner of three, I'm interested in considering all possibilities, simply as that," he said. "And I don't care to be in an argument with anyone."