KENNETH CITY — For the past several weeks, this town has been through an emotional wringer with a hotly contested election that's still being thrashed out in the courts.
Now, however, Kenneth City residents will have a moment to take a deep breath while the appeal of Mayor-elect Teresa Zemaitis works its way through the courts and the acting mayor, Wanda Dudley, plots the town's immediate future. Once she has gotten her bearings, Dudley said she will likely call for a workshop or special council meeting to discuss the issues facing Kenneth City.
"Right now, there is no agenda," Dudley said Thursday. "I'm taking a couple of days to acclimate myself. I do not want to make hasty decisions."
Dudley, 51, was chosen vice mayor Wednesday by a 3-1 council vote, with Al Carrier, 73, being the dissenting vote. Dudley will lead the town at least until there is some resolution of Zemaitis' legal appeals.
Dudley's most immediate goal is to meet with town attorney John Elias to discuss the options Kenneth City has regarding Zemaitis' suit. She said she is also studying the contract the town signed with Tampa attorney Tom Scarritt, who was hired before the election to keep Zemaitis from serving as mayor if she was elected.
Zemaitis, 40, teaches at Dixie Hollins High School. Kenneth City town clerk Nancy Beelman certified her as a candidate for mayor during qualifying in December. Then, in January, Beelman, a 20-plus-year town employee, said an obscure clause had been found in the charter that bans public employees from serving as mayor. Beelman told Zemaitis she would have to leave the race or quit her job. Zemaitis refused to do either because it was too late for another candidate to enter the race and, had she gotten out, incumbent Muriel Whitman, 83, would have automatically won a second term.
Zemaitis won the election with 70.5 percent of the vote. A judge ruled the charter clause was constitutional, and Zemaitis has said she will appeal.
That leaves Dudley, as vice mayor, to lead the town. Ironically, Dudley is also a public schoolteacher. A citizens group has presented Dudley and the council with a petition for a special election to clarify the public employee clause in the charter. But Dudley said she also wants to make sure the charter has a thorough review with an eye to clearing up any other potential problems. And, she plans to go ahead with her proposal to establish a Web site for Kenneth City. Dudley proposed such an online presence two years ago, but other council members voted her down.