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ACLU supports teacher's fight to run for Kenneth City mayor

Teacher Teresa Zemaitis, shown last month, is running for mayor of Kenneth City. Language in the town charter may prohibit her from serving. The agenda for this Wednesday’s meeting references the issue.

LARA CERRI | Times

Teacher Teresa Zemaitis, shown last month, is running for mayor of Kenneth City. Language in the town charter may prohibit her from serving. The agenda for this Wednesday’s meeting references the issue.

KENNETH CITY — Teresa Zemaitis has picked up some big legal guns in her fight to serve as mayor of this town should she win the March 10 election.

The Pinellas County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union confirmed Friday that Zemaitis' cause is one they find worth fighting for.

The group has agreed to represent her, said Bruce Howie, chairman of the Pinellas ACLU legal panel.

"They were very helpful and they seemed to feel very strongly that my position in this matter is accurate," Zemaitis said Friday. "That's comforting, both for me and the voters in Kenneth City, I think."

But Kenneth City also appears ready to lawyer up. The agenda for Wednesday's council meeting has listed under miscellaneous items "appointment of special council (sic) for declaratory action on Section 4.01(d)."

Section 4.01(d) of the Kenneth City charter is the portion that prohibits public employees from serving as Kenneth City mayor.

Zemaitis, who teaches 10-grade reading at Dixie Hollins High School, submitted her papers in December for the position of mayor.

Town Clerk Nancy Beelman certified her, but in January told Zemaitis that a town employee had discovered the obscure clause.

Beelman told Zemaitis she would have to withdraw from the race or resign her job.

Zemaitis refused to do either, saying the language did not apply to candidates but only to those who had been elected.

The situation has sparked a conflagration that has threatened to consume Kenneth City from residents who saw Beelman's actions as an attempt to throw the election to incumbent Muriel Whitman.

Zemaitis met with local ACLU officials Thursday night to pitch her case and caught their interest.

Howie said initial plans were to study state law for a definition of "public employee" and for rulings about the ability of public employees to serve on elected boards.

The argument could eventually turn on the constitutionality of the charter section.

Howie has said the clause appears to be too broad and has no rational basis for setting such a prohibition. That would make the clause unconstitutional, Howie said.

ACLU supports teacher's fight to run for Kenneth City mayor 02/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 7, 2009 3:31am]

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