Lealman cries 'Intimidation!' as cop invites residents into Kenneth City

KENNETH CITY — Antiannexation activists are complaining about the latest tactic to entice property owners to join this town — sending a police officer to deliver the invitations.

"It may not be intimidating to some people, but to a lot of people, it is intimidating," said Ray Neri, head of the Lealman Community Association, which has helped spearhead the antiannexation fight in Lealman.

Kenneth City officials say the object is not to intimidate folks into annexing but to use the town's limited staff in the most efficient manner. The town could not afford to hire someone to do only annexations, Mayor Teresa Zemaitis said.

She said Kenneth City residents appreciate attempts to increase the tax base through annexation and to hold costs down by having employees wear multiple hats.

"We're learning to better utilize the resources we have," Zemaitis said. "Other people multitask. It's not just (police Cpl. Thomas Goldberg). It's not just annexation."

Complaints of intimidation are unfounded, Zemaitis said. The transaction is handled in a professional manner. Most property owners end up talking to her before the annexation takes place, she said.

"I know that's the Lealman people saying that kind of crap," Zemaitis said. "The whole thing is ridiculous."

She added that the property owners are "being invited. They're being given information. … They say yes or they say no. If they say yes, we say welcome. If they say no, we say thank you."

Goldberg has been a Kenneth City police officer for more than 16 years. For the past 10 to 12 years, he has been in charge of emergency and floodplain management, and he performs other administrative and patrol duties. When Zemaitis began actively annexing land, he "kind of volunteered to help," figuring it fit neatly into his other duties. He estimates he spends a couple of days a week on annexations.

"I pretty much (do the annexation) from start to finish," he said.

Goldberg searches out properties that are contiguous to the town, determines the owners, then writes letters to them explaining the benefits of annexing into Kenneth City.

"Some (letters) are mailed, but generally I go visit (the property owners)," Goldberg said. "Everybody I've spoken to is very positive. … There's no intimidation."

If the owner wants to annex, Goldberg prepares the paperwork and runs it by the town attorney for approval.

All annexations are voluntary, he said.

Goldberg said he sometimes wears a coat and tie when visiting property owners, but he also has worn his uniform. Usually, however, those who see him in his uniform already know he's a police officer, he said.

It's the uniform that particularly bothers Neri and other activists. An officer does not have to point a gun at someone's head and say, "Annex or else," in order to be intimidating, Neri said. A police officer is intimidating just by the nature of his job, and the uniform makes him even more so, Neri said.

"No one sees that as undue (influence)?" Neri asked. "Geez. Geez. … The judgment of this is so bad. … It sure is an abuse of judgment."

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

Lealman cries 'Intimidation!' as cop invites residents into Kenneth City 03/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 4:29pm]

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