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It may be time to disband Kenneth City police, two council members say

KENNETH CITY — Two Town Council members, including the one who oversees the Police Department, say it might be time to consider disbanding the agency and bringing in outside help.

Troy Campbell, who was put in charge of the department after his election in March, has contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to ask for guidance in helping Kenneth City hash out issues raised by a sheriff's investigation into the department. He has also talked with Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats about the report.

The investigation, requested by Mayor Teresa Zemaitis, raised questions concerning management of the department. Issues that Coats found include twice-weekly breakfasts between the police chief and two on-duty officers, unauthorized use of town cars and officers' frequent absence from Kenneth City while calling themselves as available to answer calls.

Campbell said Friday that the results of the investigation were "disappointing, to say the least."

"There are things there that didn't leave the town in the best protected (situation). There is my problem," Campbell said. "I do not want to shoot from the hip and say anger, anger, anger . . . but at the end of the day, if you're not getting the job done, you've got to do something different."

He added, "My overall outlook is to put Kenneth City in its best position so we're not here again."

That could mean disbanding the department and asking an outside agency to come in. But, in the shorter term, Campbell said he believes a deeper investigation is in order.

Council member Joanne DiSimone agreed something needs to be done.

"Someone should take a look at that department to see if it can be salvaged and saved," she said. If it can't, DiSimone said she would favor asking Pinellas Park rather than the sheriff to come in and take over.

Council member Ron Sneed said he had not had a chance to study the 110-page report and so was reluctant to comment at length.

"There's more than one side to every issue and I want to find out both sides," Sneed said. "I want to see it from the angle of the other people involved."

Chief Douglas Pasley did not return calls from the Times on Thursday and Friday.

Zemaitis' complaints about police department management stem back at least to July 24, 2009. An e-mail dated then from her to Pasley objects to frequent breakfasts at the Town House, a now defunct Kenneth City restaurant.

"I especially mind it when I hear from residents that it happened at least twice this week alone, one day for two hours," Zemaitis wrote. "This is a highly ineffective use of our citizens' tax dollars."

Pasley responded, "Please forgive me from laughing because I hate that place. . . . This week was a little odd because I spent more time there than I wanted. Actually I was there three times. We have been criticized before, but (then-council member Allen) Schopp directed that we have at least one car on the road. To my knowledge, that rule was never violated."

Pasley added that, "as a surprise," Sneed joined the cops one morning.

Then he wrote, "I can assure you that this problem has also been resolved."

Zemaitis attempted to raise the "boys' breakfast club" issue and others last year at a budget workshop. She said she wanted to fire the chief and promote one of the other officers to save the town money. Zemaitis also told council members she had evidence of mismanagement in the department. Council members accused her of meddling and refused to listen to her evidence.

Finally, frustrated with the situation, she asked Coats to investigate.

DiSimone said Friday that Zemaitis made a bad presentation at the budget workshop. Rather than leading with the firing, she should have led with the evidence. Council members would have listened then, she said.

Recently, DiSimone said, she heard of the chief's frequent breakfasts with two of his officers at Bob Evans across from Tyrone Mall.

"I was absolutely appalled by that," DiSimone said.

DiSimone said she's also dissatisfied with the failure of the police in code enforcement issues. They seldom do it, she said, and then they play favorites by enforcing rules against some and not others. Then, she said, there's the expense. The 13-man department (including the chief) costs taxpayers about $1.2 million a year to support. That's about 55 percent of the town's $2.2 million operating budget.

Neither DiSimone nor Campbell saw anything wrong with Zemaitis' decision to call in the sheriff.

"I'm glad it's out in the open," DiSimone said.

And Campbell said, "I'm not upset about the internal investigation at all. If you're doing the right thing, you don't have to worry."

Reach Anne Lindberg at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Meeting Wednesday

The Kenneth City Town Council is scheduled to discuss the findings of a sheriff's investigation into the town Police Department during a 6:30 p.m. workshop Wednesday at the Community Hall, 4600 58th St. N. For information, call (727) 498-8948.

It may be time to disband Kenneth City police, two council members say 04/23/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 28, 2011 9:22am]

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