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Outspoken candidates battle in race for Kenneth City mayor

KENNETH CITY — The candidates for mayor of this town have at least two things in common — forceful personalities and strong opinions.

The resulting clash has spiced up many council debates in a town already known for cantankerous wrangling among elected officials. That's carried over into the campaign season as Mayor Teresa Zemaitis, council member Joanne DeSimone and their supporters have wrangled over their differences. That should end with Tuesday's mayoral election, which is open to all Kenneth City voters, not just Republicans.

Also on the ballot is a proposed change to the town charter that will allow a charter review commission to be appointed every five years beginning this year. The current charter limits review to every 10 years.

While that decision may seem dull, the mayor's race is not.

DeSimone, 68, has accused Zemaitis of wasting money and of blocking her attempts to do her job as head of the town's department of buildings and public recreation.

Some of the wasted funds, she has said, include those spent to refurbish Town Hall, which included replacing carpet and tiles. The money, DeSimone said, could be better spent on redoing the Community Hall, where more citizens congregate.

Both decisions — to redecorate the Town Hall and buy the carpet and tiles — were made by the whole council. The first was made before DeSimone was elected to the council. The vote on carpet and tiling was 4-1, with DeSimone being the only vote against.

Zemaitis, 43, counters that DeSimone is fiscally irresponsible. Evidence, she said, includes DeSimone's statement at a budget workshop last year that she would willingly increase taxes to ensure town employees receive a raise.

The two also differ over Zemaitis' handling of citizen complaints concerning the Police Department, which the mayor first raised during a 2010 budget workshop. Minutes and a tape of the workshop show Zemaitis did talk about the complaints as a basis for wanting to fire Chief Doug Pasley and restructure the department.

The remainder of the council did not agree and DeSimone accused Zemaitis of overstepping the boundaries of her office. DeSimone motioned that the item "be tabled and not brought before the council again." Zemaitis asked if DeSimone was willing to look further into the department and DeSimone said no, not without proper documentation and reviews. The council, she said, was satisfied with Pasley.

Zemaitis said she continued receiving complaints but was unable to do anything without violating the state's open records law or without the council's permission to discuss issues at an open meeting. Instead, she asked then-Sheriff Jim Coats to investigate the department. The investigation found multiple instances of poor management.

Again, the council disagreed with Zemaitis and voted to retain Pasley. DeSimone says Zemaitis' decision to call in the sheriff overstepped her bounds and embarrassed the town.

Zemaitis said she had no other choice.

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

MAYOR'S RACE

Vote Tuesday

Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. Kenneth City's mayor serves a three-year term and has charge of the day-to-day operations of the town. The office pays $500 a month. Kenneth City has about 4,900 residents and an operating budget of about $2.2 million.

Outspoken candidates battle in race for Kenneth City mayor 01/28/12 [Last modified: Saturday, January 28, 2012 3:30am]
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