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Kenneth City Council wants to get Police Department's side of the story

Kenneth City Mayor Teresa Zemaitis, who asked the Sheriff’s Office to investigate town police, talks to attorney John Elias at the City Council meeting Wednesday. 

LARA CERRI | Times

Kenneth City Mayor Teresa Zemaitis, who asked the Sheriff’s Office to investigate town police, talks to attorney John Elias at the City Council meeting Wednesday. 

KENNETH CITY — News emerged last week that the mayor of this tiny Pinellas County town was so frustrated at the council's failure to listen to her concerns about the Police Department that she sicced the sheriff on the department.

Among the problems the sheriff found: Some officers cut off their Global Positioning Systems while on duty. Some cops called in available while as far away as Clearwater and the Howard Frankland bridge. One officer surfed dating websites on the computer in his cruiser.

Mayor Teresa Zemaitis wanted to discuss those issues at a city workshop Wednesday night.

Council members refused, saying they think the investigation may have been biased and would like a more in-depth study that gives the department a chance to tell its side of the story.

Council member Troy Campbell, who is in charge of the department, will run the investigation.

During the workshop, Campbell slammed Zemaitis for calling in the sheriff.

"You are biased," he told the mayor. "We do not need to commit character assassination in the public eye."

The council's decision to delay a discussion of the sheriff's investigation was popular with many in the standing-room-only crowd, who applauded when speakers defended the police and attacked the mayor — not only for calling in the sheriff, but for speaking to the media about the investigation.

"I'm appalled at the way this has been handled," Kenneth City resident Larry Hauft said.

Campbell could not estimate when he might finish his investigation, but promised: "I'm not going to let this go underneath the carpet."

Campbell, who has been on the council since early March, said he wants to make sure police Chief Douglas Pasley and the department's officers have a chance to respond to the allegations.

Campbell said earlier that he has spoken with Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats about the report. He has also contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to find out what steps he might take next.

He said he also has spoken with Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe about a grand jury's recommendation in 1995 that the town should dissolve the Police Department and hire the Sheriff's Office. The grand jury also suggested that the city change its style of government by hiring a city manager or electing a strong mayor.

The department has 13 officers, including Pasley, and costs about $1.2 million a year. That's about 55 percent of the town's $2.2 million budget.

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

Kenneth City Council wants to get Police Department's side of the story 04/27/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 28, 2011 8:23am]
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