KENNETH CITY — Mayor Teresa Zemaitis thinks she has the perfect way to save tax money: fire the police chief and reorganize the department.
"I don't take any joy in doing this, but I've got to do what I think is right," Zemaitis said.
Kenneth City's other four council members emphatically disagreed, refusing to listen to the mayor's complaints about Chief Doug Pasley's performance and criticizing her for overstepping her boundaries when she broached the topic last week during a budget workshop.
They agreed to indefinitely table Zemaitis' proposal, effectively killing the idea. At the end of the workshop, Pasley went over to Zemaitis and hugged her.
Pasley had said during the workshop that he is a victim of disgruntled employees, telling Zemaitis: "They come running to you every time I do something wrong."
At one point during the debate, the council argued over Kenneth City's reputation as a ticket trap. Council member Wanda Dudley was particularly outraged by the town's reputation and admitted she had offered to fix a ticket for a tow truck driver should he get one.
Dudley said the incident happened one night when her car broke down. She had called for a tow and said the driver was reluctant to bring her home when he discovered she lived in Kenneth City because he feared being ticketed.
Dudley said she told him, "No problem; I will make sure you do not get a ticket. Get me home safely."
Kenneth City's reputation arose during the debate because, among other things, Zemaitis accused Pasley of telling his officers they do not have to ticket drivers who have committed infractions. Three years ago, she said, the town issued about 3,000 citations a year; that's down to about 1,000 a year.
Earlier this year, she said, the town participated in the Click It or Ticket campaign. The agencies that wrote many citations won free equipment from the Florida Department of Transportation. Kenneth City wrote only five citations, Zemaitis said.
"That's a sign of the management," the mayor said.
Dudley said she was glad to hear that: "Thank heavens; I don't want that reputation anymore."
Allen Schopp, the council member who oversees the Police Department, said the town will have red light cameras installed this fall. The tickets generated from those "will take care of your citation numbers," he said.
Zemaitis also said the chief has fallen behind on code enforcement. Some property owners have repeatedly complained about ill-kept houses that lower property values, but nothing has been done.
Schopp defended Pasley's failure to follow through on code issues, saying it was "possible we missed an overgrown yard," but that's because the chief and the department are more involved with protecting Kenneth City residents from rapists, murderers, burglars and vandals. The fact that the last murder in Kenneth City was in the late 1990s shows how effective police have been, he said.
Schopp said Pasley was being targeted because he is an older, conservative man.
Pasley, 67, has been chief since January 2008. He was the last major hire by the old-guard council headed by former Mayor Muriel Whitman.
Although he began working for the town in January 2008, he did not receive a contract until November 2008. Zemaitis said town officials have not been able to find a record of a council vote to give Pasley the contract. It runs until 2011. He earns about $61,800 a year.
The Kenneth City Police Department has 14 officers including Pasley. At about $1.2 million a year, it is the town's largest expense, accounting for a bit more than half the $2.2 million budget.
Reach Anne Lindberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.