Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley said he will stand by the city harbormaster after learning the Maryland Department of Natural Resources investigated her involvement in child abuse charges against a liveaboard couple.
Buckley said Monday he was unaware of an internal investigation into Harbormaster Beth Bellis after she was involved in a criminal investigation that wrongfully charged two people. Part of it was made public Monday by a Annapolis boater who has a history of conflict with the harbormaster’s office.
“She’s been doing a good job and we want to support her,” Buckley said.
Bellis was involved in a February 2014 investigation into John and Sherri Kelly. Police discovered the couple living in squalor with their two teenage children, adult son and dogs aboard a sailboat in the Magothy River. Police charged the two with neglect of a minor, child abuse and failure to send a child to school.
The Kellys spent a week in jail, more than the maximum penalty for not sending a child to school. Prosecutors dropped all other charges after finding the Kellys’ conduct did not meet the criminal standards for neglect and abuse.
That same month, Cpl. Mike Lathroum filed a misconduct complaint against Bellis. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources conducted an internal investigation and cited Bellis with 36 violations of departmental policies and procedures, according to a petition she filed with the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.
“A majority of these administrative charges are of such a serious nature that if found guilty, the Petitioner (Bellis) could be terminated from her employment,” the petition reads.
Bellis and the DNR entered into negotiations as a part of the litigation and reached a settlement. The case was dismissed on March 2, 2016. Bellis left the department that month, ending a 17-year career.
The DNR declined to comment on Bellis’ departure, citing personnel matters. Attorney General Brian Frosh and Assistant Attorney General Roger L. Wolfe, who served as counsel for the department, could not be reached for comment.
City Manager Tom Andrews said Monday he did not know about the investigation but added it would not have made a difference given the outcome.
A hiring committee, including Andrews, deputy chief of planning Kevin Simmons and former Annapolis recreation and parks director Michael Morris, selected Bellis in October 2016 after the city fired former harbormaster J.P. "Flip" Walters. The city found Walters negligent in his duty when he waited a month to report more than $3,400 missing from a safe in the harbormaster's office.
Andrews worked for the DNR until 1987, he said. He said he did not know Bellis during her time with the police, from 1998 to 2016.
The committee felt she was the best candidate for the job, he said. Bellis’ last performance evaluation was “stellar," Andrews said.
Some of Bellis’ history came to light Monday in a Facebook post by Annapolis resident Joe Heimbach. Heimbach posted to his personal page as well as the Eastport Neighborhood Forum, a group with more than 8,800 members.
Heimbach has past and pending litigation with the harbormaster’s office, including three active charges for abandoning a vessel, dumping litter overboard and manipulating the serial number on a vessel. Heimbach said his dinghy went missing and denies the charges.
Buckley said Monday afternoon he was unaware of the Facebook posts by Heimbach until he was asked about them, but knew that about the boater’s conflicts with the harbormaster’s office. He said he has tried to convince him to work out any disputes.
“(Buckley) needs to address this harbormaster,” said Heimbach, who believes Bellis’ office is writing tickets “for things that she knows never happened.”
Bellis did not respond to requests for comment.