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Kenneth City voters get chance to change government

Kenneth City Mayor Teresa Zemaitis favors a manager format. The town has had numerous issues.

Kenneth City Mayor Teresa Zemaitis favors a manager format. The town has had numerous issues.

KENNETH CITY — Voters here will decide Tuesday if they want more of the same government style they've had for 56 years or would like to try something new.

The sole issue on the ballot is a referendum that would change Kenneth City's government from its current format, in which elected officials run the daily activities of the town, to a council-manager style. Under that form, a manager, professionally trained in municipal issues, would run Kenneth City's daily activities.

Under the proposed change to the charter, the manager would also be required to have at least three years' experience in public administration.

The manager's duties would include hiring and firing all employees except the town attorney, preparing a budget and reporting to the council on the town's financial status.

The mayor and council would still exist but would be responsible for overseeing the manager, setting policy, passing a budget, and hiring a town attorney.

It's a form of government some say Kenneth City has long needed. A grand jury in the early to mid-1990s suggested a council-manager configuration might help stop the political infighting and backbiting that characterized the government. The council then and since has passed on the idea. Most said the town couldn't afford a manager.

The result has been a town that's become known for its scandals, petty bickering, and gridlock.

Some difficulties have been caused by well-intentioned elected officials who have little knowledge of the morass of federal, state, county and local rules that govern many issues that face all municipalities.

The result can be confusion or potentially expensive missteps. For example, a three-judge panel disallowed several voluntary annexations the town passed in 2010 saying Kenneth City officials did not follow the law because no map was provided when officials sent notice of the annexations to the county.

The court disallowed the annexations and ordered the town to pay attorneys fees for the Lealman Fire District, which sued over the annexation attempts. It's unclear how much those fees might be, fire officials did not have ready access to the amount. But Kenneth City has paid out about $20,000 to its own attorneys for the case.

Mayor Teresa Zemaitis said she supports changing to a town manager format but not because of the annexation case. The town, she said, has annexed before and had no problems. Officials believe they did nothing wrong in these cases, she said, and are appealing the decision.

But, Zemaitis said, there are other ways in which a city manager format could pay for itself. One is in making sure the town's purchasing rules are heeded.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or 9727) 893-8450.

Kenneth City voters get chance to change government 11/01/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 1, 2013 11:32am]

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