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Council members disagree on Kenneth City mayor's use of town's car

KENNETH CITY — The mayor of this town found herself without transportation recently when her car needed repairs, so she simply borrowed one of the town-owned cars.

Teresa Zemaitis kept the car for a couple of days in March to travel from her home to Town Hall. But she also used it for personal business — to drive to and from Dixie Hollins High School, where she teaches reading.

Zemaitis said Monday that she sees nothing wrong with her actions.

"The choice was this, borrow the car and get to Town Hall to do the job I was elected to do or not be there for a couple of days," she said. "I put about 2 miles on the car."

Zemaitis said she sees nothing wrong with using the car to take her to her job because the high school is within a few blocks of her home and Town Hall. Had she worked farther away, Zemaitis said, she'd have rented a car.

At least two members of the Town Council agree with her. Technically, they said, she might have erred in using town property for personal business but the short distance makes Zemaitis' actions irrelevant.

"I don't think there was any abuse of the system," Troy Campbell said. "If the town doesn't need the car and nobody's allowed to use it, what is it there for? ... I still don't think the public trust was violated. … I'm not really upset about it."

Phil Redisch was equally forgiving.

"I personally don't think it's a big thing," Redisch said. "It's not right, but I personally wouldn't make a big deal of it. You're really, really, really nitpicking."

Council member Ron Sneed saw the situation a little differently.

People are not allowed to use the sign outside the Community Hall for personal notices. And last year, the police chief and several police officers came under fire for allegedly using police cars on personal business. Sneed said Zemaitis also stopped employees of the public works department from taking home town cars and using them for personal reasons.

It's a "double standard, that's my issue," Sneed said.

Sneed said that, if it's okay to use town-owned property even for a short time, what's to prevent someone from borrowing equipment from the public works department, taking it home, using it and returning it?

As a leader, he said, "you just don't open up doors for other people to do other things."

But Zemaitis said there's a difference between what she did and what the others were accused of doing. Some officers, for example, were accused of going home in town cars while they were on duty and of taking overly long breakfast and lunch breaks. The point, she said, was that the officers were supposed to be on duty but were not available if residents needed them.

"I chose to use the car for town purposes," she said. "It's pretty damn ridiculous."

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Council members disagree on Kenneth City mayor's use of town's car 05/22/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 3:55pm]
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