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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Kenneth City to ask attorney general if teacher can be mayor



KENNETH CITY - Council members voted Wednesday to ask the state attorney general if the town's charter is valid and if a schoolteacher can serve as mayor.

The unanimous vote came after angry Kenneth City residents spent about two hours pounding the council, the town clerk and the town attorney over a decision that Teresa Zemaitis could run for mayor but not serve if elected. Town attorney Paul Marino said Zemaitis, who teaches reading at Dixie Hollins High School, is a "public employee." The town charter bars any public employee from serving as mayor.

More than 80 residents attended Wednesday's meeting to first ask the council to place a charter change on the upcoming ballot. The change would have taken out the questionable language. But Marino said there was not enough time to get the issue on the ballot for the March 10 election.

Residents then asked about a grass-roots petition to force the issue onto the ballot. Marino said there was also not enough time to get the 302 signatures necessary to have the item placed on the ballot.

Residents also questioned the constitutionality of the clause. And they wondered what would happen if Zemaitis, who has refused to withdraw from the race, wins the election. They were told that town clerk Nancy Beelman would refuse to swear her in or allow her to be seated.

Then came the fallback position: Seek a higher authority. In this case, that's state attorney general Bill McCollum. The council voted for Marino to move quickly in asking three questions: Is that section of the charter constitutional? If it is, does public employee include a public school teacher? And, if Zemaitis should win, could she wait to be sworn in until after the charter is changed?

-- Anne Lindberg, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:43am]


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