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Helmstetter's removal sought

The taxing district member should be ousted because of his "shouting, name calling, abusive four-letter language and references to religion," one board member said.

By LOGAN D. MABE

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2000


NORTHDALE -- Combative Northdale Special Tax District trustee George Helmstetter may have finally gone too far.

After another incident in which staff and a contractor say his abusive language crossed the line that even community volunteers must observe, his colleagues have made plans to kick him off the district's board.

At a meeting Monday marked by more angry outbursts, the board began the process to have Helmstetter removed. If a majority of the 9-member board favors his ouster at the district's next regularly scheduled meeting May 8, Helmstetter will lose his seat.

In 2 1/2 hours, the board only got to three agenda items, including the motion to remove Helmstetter, whose constant harangues slow most meetings and, his critics say, prevent the board from getting business done.

Since his election in 1998, Helmstetter has butted heads with district president Kevin Ambler and been a constant antagonist of property manager Diane Montgomery. It was a recent run-in with Montgomery that prompted Monday's action.

In a letter to the board, Montgomery said that while attending a county budget workshop April 4, "I was verbally attacked both professionally and personally by board member George Helmstetter."

Montgomery wrote that Helmstetter accused her of "standing him up," for a meeting with a taxing district contractor. When Montgomery showed Helmstetter an e-mail he had sent her confirming a different date, "I was accused of manufacturing the e-mail," she said.

Then, on April 7, Montgomery and Helmstetter met with Charles Strazzullo, who works for the company that manages lakes in Northdale. At that meeting, Montgomery said Helmstetter "insulted Charlie Strazzullo with ignorant statements and demands."

When Montgomery urged Helmstetter to study the company's contract to understand the scope of work required, Helmstetter reportedly said, "It's not my job to read that s--. I'm a volunteer and don't get paid a dime."

Strazzullo confirmed the exchange in a letter. "In ten years of doing business here in Florida, I have never been spoken to by a client quite like that," he wrote. "If I have to deal with this man again in performing our contract, I'm afraid I will have to discontinue services and terminate our contract."

Trustee Manuel Garcia made the motion to have Helmstetter removed from the board.

Helmstetter, who had stayed quiet to that point, said, "Ninety percent of this is a lie. . . . The purpose is to slander me."

Helmstetter admitted that he can be belligerent at times. "I do have a problem with that," he said. "But I can't stand (Montgomery's) lying. It makes me irritable and angry."

Then some of the 20 audience members had their turn bashing Helmstetter. Several brought up his appearance at March's meeting of the Northdale Civic Association, when he berated several members of that organization.

"You were horrible," one resident called out. "You were obnoxious," another said. Helmstetter defended his stands, saying his brand of fiscal conservatism runs counter to the "spend and spend and spend," mind-set of other board members.

"That's my story. You can take it or leave it," Helmstetter said. "I've argued with Kevin. I've argued with everyone on this board. I represent the majority of (residents) out there."

"No you don't!" the crowd responded in unison.

Treasurer Esther Lutz supported Helmstetter saying that he was a hard worker and "perhaps not the most tactful person you've ever known," but that the dissension did not warrant his removal.

"Let's not forget," Lutz said. "He's working for the betterment of Northdale."

But Garcia said the main issue was not Helmstetter's relationship with Montgomery, but his"shouting, name calling, abusive four-letter language and references to religion."

More importantly, said trustee Dennis Cooper, Helmstetter's harangues keep the board from getting anything done.

Trustee Vale Benning agreed. "With the constant bickering, we have not completed one agenda in I don't know how long."

-- To reach Logan D. Mabe, call 226-3464 or e-mail him at mabe@sptimes.com.

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