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Belleair sides with kids, not predator

Instead of removing public notices to protect a sexual predator, town officials resolve to inform the public of predators.

By LISA GREENE

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001


Instead of removing public notices to protect a sexual predator, town officials resolve to inform the public of predators.

BELLEAIR -- Sexual predator Michael Del Kirk did not come to Tuesday's town meeting, where his future was discussed.

But a 5-year-old boy did put in an appearance -- to say hello to his father, police Chief George Harmansky. The child, not Kirk, is the one whom commissioners say they want to protect.

Kirk's mother, Joan Kirk, had asked the town to take down fliers with her son's picture from the front, side and rear entrances of Town Hall. But commissioners said Tuesday that the town should not only keep his picture posted in Town Hall, but strengthen its policy of notifying residents about sexual predators.

"I hope he's rehabilitated," said Mayor George Mariani Jr. after the meeting. "I have no reason to think he isn't. . . . But he can protect himself better than young children can."

Michael Kirk, 44, who has refused to talk to the St. Petersburg Times, is the only sexual predator in this town of 4,100.

Town officials posted his picture after he was released from prison and moved in with his parents in September 1999.

Joan Kirk said her son made mistakes because he was an alcoholic and doesn't deserve to be a sexual predator, the label for the worst sex criminals. He has been sober for more than three years, has a job and takes college computer classes, she said. Removing the signs would help him start over and lessen his family's pain.

But her move backfired. Instead of removing the signs, the town asked Attorney General Bob Butterworth for a legal opinion on what they must do to notify residents. Butterworth's reply that town officials could decide prompted Tuesday's discussion.

Commissioners asked Town Manager Steve Cottrell to draft a policy saying the town would notify residents when a sexual predator arrived and that the town would post fliers of all predators at Town Hall. Officials also agreed to write to new residents to tell them they could learn about predators at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Web site www.fdle.state.fl.us, or by calling police.

The fliers should be removed only if the predator moves or is removed from the state's predator list, commissioners said.

Joan Kirk said there wasn't much reason for her family to go to Tuesday's meeting.

"We figured they'd do that anyway," she said Tuesday night. "The town has to do what the town has to do."

Since the issue became public, she said, her son has lost his job and several children have left her school, the Belleair Montessori Academy. She has said repeatedly that her son is not allowed at the school, and police have never seen him there. But, she said, parents withdrew children when they first learned about her son's record.

Kirk was convicted of committing a lewd act in front of a child in 1997 and buying child pornography in 1994.

In 1997, he was working at his parents' bowling alley when he fondled himself through his underwear in front of two young girls. He asked them to touch him, but they refused and ran away. Kirk was arrested and went to prison from March 1998 to September 1999.

Kirk's name, address, picture and sex-crime convictions are posted on the FDLE Web site. The law required Belleair to notify nearby schools and child-care centers when Kirk moved to town.

The town also took extra steps. As many towns do, it sent police door-to-door notifying neighbors. It also posted the fliers.

The mother of one of the girls victimized by Kirk came to Tuesday's meeting and asked them to leave the fliers up.

"I want to speak not just for my daughter but for the children in your community," she said.

She said afterward that she sympathizes with Kirk's parents but disagrees with their efforts to remove the signs.

"They have to live this nightmare," she said.

Joan Kirk had suggested that town officials' actions were politically motivated. Commissioners stressed Tuesday that they want a policy for future sexual predators, not just for Kirk.

"This has nothing to do with them personally," Mariani said. "All of us have raised children in this community."

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