Kenneth City boils over as residents excoriate town officials

KENNETH CITY

The simmering anger and frustration residents have felt over happenings at Town Hall boiled over Wednesday.

People attending a Town Council meeting verbally attacked the town attorney, town clerk and council members with a defiance not witnessed in recent times.

Audience members clapped, cheered and jeered during the heated debate on the city's charter that forbids public employees from holding the office of mayor.

Much of the tension stemmed from a decision by the town clerk to disqualify Teresa Zemaitis, a reading teacher at Dixie Hollins High School, from the ballot in the mayor's race. But residents were also upset by recent ordinances that they felt were particularly onerous and likely to infringe on their rights as citizens.

Some in the crowd hung around in the parking lot after the meeting to talk about the issues and next steps. One of them characterized it as the "Asphalt Association" meeting.

Here, taken from notes and audiotapes, are some exchanges and comments from the meeting, which was attended by more than 80 people inside the Community Hall and a spillover crowd in the parking lot.

• • •

Kenneth City resident Timothy Walsh had a hard time understanding why a schoolteacher could serve on the council but not as mayor. Town attorney Paul Marino tried to explain that the clause applies only to the qualifications for mayor.

Marino: "It's just literally what this charter says."

Walsh: "But we have a council member who was a teacher."

Marino: "It has nothing to do with a member of the council, nor does it have to do with conflict of interest."

Walsh: "Did we or did we not have a council member who was a teacher?"

Marino: "Of course. Are you listening to me? Listen. Listen to me … The issue is not conflict. The issue is literal wording of the charter, which says to perform the duties of mayor you cannot hold any other public office or public employment."

Walsh tried again to get it clear.

Marino: "That is the council. … Now watch what I am saying. I said the charter says a mayor. You hear? You understand the difference between a mayor and a council member?"

• • •

Dick Laneau, head of the Kenneth City Homeowners Association, which has long been the town's power base, gave his opinion. The association is now known as the Kenneth City Social Club:

"I'm 100 percent for anybody being able to run for office but also if the candidate was elected, I don't believe we should have a part-time mayor. This is a growing city. We should have a full-time mayor so if whoever gets elected, they should not have another office (An audience member muttered, "Then pay them for a full-time job."). I've heard that all of Kenneth City is a bunch of old farts. Some of these old farts are very intelligent, and they know what they are doing. So if that's what we have to have are all retired people (in office), so be it."

• • •

Kenneth City resident Maureen Boberg traded comments with Marino, then turned her attention to Town Clerk Nancy Beelman, who had told Teresa Zemaitis she could not run for mayor because she teaches reading at Dixie Hollins High School.

Boberg: "How long have you been town clerk?"

Beelman: "I've been with the city 20 years."

Boberg: "How come you didn't know when she picked up her packet that she couldn't (serve)?"

Beelman: "Because I overlooked it. The same as Teresa overlooked it. She was on the charter review."

Boberg: "But you're the keeper of our records."

Beelman: "I made a mistake. I grant it."

• • •

Russ Koerner also criticized Beelman: "Nancy has admitted to some flaw in regard to the election."

Marino: "No she hasn't."

Russ: "Nancy just admitted that she overlooked this clause. Excuse me, let me finish, Mr. Marino, then you can address me. If you want three minutes, I'll wait until your three minutes are up."

• • •

Koerner's wife, Diana, also spoke: "I am addressing the mayor. Mayor, why do you not answer the questions? Why does Mr. Marino answer everything? … All of you as council members ought to be ashamed for allowing the lawyer to flat out run this meeting. We elected you. We elected each one of you. Not you (referring to Marino). We expect each one of you to have a say-so. You don't have to sit there and be quiet. You're the puppeteer and you're running them, and I'm tired of it. … Next question to you as the council, not the attorney. Are you afraid of losing your power here? You as the council work for us. … Can you honestly listen to what the people are telling you? Are you that biased? … You all work for us. We want to hear from you all, not from you."

Whitman: "Thank you."

Audience: "Answer the question."

Whitman: "Which one?"

Audience: "All of them." "You can have my three minutes."

Whitman: "Well, you know, we are all human and we all make a mistake one time or another, and I really don't have any comments because I am just hearing some of this for the first time tonight."

Audience: "You don't read the paper?"

Whitman: "I don't get the St. Pete Times anymore except on the weekends."

Audience: "Awwww." "But you can read it on the computer. You're up there at City Hall, and you have a computer that you can read it on."

Whitman: "No, I don't have a computer at City Hall, honey."

Audience: "Talk about antiquated." "What do you expect?"

Whitman: "Will you sit down please?"

One of the men on council: "I make a motion we adjourn. … Can I make a motion to adjourn?"

Whitman: "I guess so. I don't know. These people."

• • •

Larry Hauft said he was excluding council member Wanda Dudley from his comments: "This council's completely out of touch with a majority of its citizens. The council itself has been detrimental to the progress of the city. Your actions have led to an inordinate amount of time spent on divisive issues that appear to be your own personal issues and agendas as opposed to the wants, needs and desires of the citizens of Kenneth City. Obviously, from the citizen turnout and involvement at these meetings, the majority seems to be in opposition to your positions. What amazes me is that you appear to be utterly clueless to the voice of the citizens. You seem to be of the mind-set, how dare these citizens object to anything we say. Your abilities to lead this town at best is to be able to hire someone to fix something that is broken or doesn't work. That takes no skill. What you lack is leadership skills, insight, vision and a plan for our town. My opinion on your performance — it stinks. In the corporate world, your job performance would be rated as needs to improve or needs retraining. Based on that and everything that you haven't done for the betterment of our town, I'm asking ya'll to resign."

Whitman tried to defend the council by explaining storm drains are being fixed. Hauft challenged her to name something she or the council had done that was "insightful. … Give me something that has driven the city in a different direction, something that will make us better."

Whitman: "I don't see any of you participating in some of the things we do. We have Concert in the Park every Sunday 2 to 4. I have never seen any of you. I've seen this gentleman."

Audience member: "Don't like the type of music."

Kenneth City boils over as residents excoriate town officials 01/17/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 17, 2009 3:31am]

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