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Wandering police department gets Kenneth City mayor's attention

KENNETH CITY — The mayor finally had had enough.

For months, Teresa Zemaitis had been frustrated by the Kenneth City Town Council's refusal to listen to her complaints about problems in the Police Department.

So the mayor of this town of 4,980 sicced the sheriff on her own department.

The findings, contained in a 110-page report, were eye-opening. Among them:

• Police Chief Douglas Pasley used his town-owned car to visit such places as Orlando, Ellenton and the State Fair.

• Pasley and two of his officers regularly spent time on duty having breakfast at the Bob Evans restaurant across from Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg. The two officers did not have their computer/GPS systems turned on when traveling to and from the restaurant even though they were on duty.

• Kenneth City police officers frequently venture out of Kenneth City on duty.

Deputies also pulled computer records on one Kenneth City officer who "spent long periods of time stationary in one location." They found he used the department computer to log onto dating sites (such as match.com), Craigslist, and nutrition and bodybuilding sites, among others.

Zemaitis declined Thursday to comment at length about the findings, saying she wanted only to provide information to the council and town residents.

"I don't have an agenda," she said. "I'm simply going to the people saying, 'Here's what I know. What do we do about it?' "

Pasley could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The issue is sure to cause an uproar in this town, with its reputation as a speed trap and history of bickering and problems with the Police Department and government.

Turmoil in the Police Department and town administration became so bad in 1995 that a grand jury was convened. The grand jury criticized residents for spreading lies, accused the police of being "pawns" for political patronage and criticized the Town Council for wasting taxpayers' money. It suggested the town dissolve its Police Department and hire a city manager or elect a strong mayor. None of that was done.

The turmoil has continued intermittently since then.

Zemaitis, 42, is used to that. Town officials tried to stop her from running for mayor in 2009, saying her job as a reading teacher at Dixie Hollins High School disqualified her. The Town Charter barred any public employee from serving as mayor.

When Zemaitis defeated incumbent Muriel Whitman, then 82, with a landslide 70.5 percent of the vote, the issue ended up in court. A settlement allowed her to take office until the next year when voters amended the charter to allow her to serve.

Last year, she said during a budget workshop that she wanted to fire Pasley in part because of poor leadership and to save money. Pasley, 68, earns about $61,800 a year and has access to a Ford Crown Victoria. His contract allows him to drive the car only in the Tampa Bay area.

Zemaitis complained then about Pasley's "boys' breakfast club" at Bob Evans, saying she instructed him to stop the practice. It's a waste of taxpayer dollars, she said, to have officers come on duty only to instantly drive off and spend an hour or so eating breakfast out of town. It also smacks of favoritism, she said.

"I think it is a bad example and I think it lowers the morale of other officers who can't do that," Zemaitis said Thursday. "I feel sorry for the officers that are left out on patrol working while they're enjoying a meal."

The other four council members dismissed her concerns. Kenneth City has a form of government in which each council member oversees the daily activities of a department. The mayor is the financial officer of the town, which has a $2.2 million operating budget. Its largest component is the Police Department's $1.2 million budget.

"I felt that I would not be diligent as mayor if our largest department was not running efficiently and I did not do something about it," Zemaitis said Thursday.

So Zemaitis turned to Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats, who agreed to do an investigation at no charge.

"We have done this before," sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said Thursday. "It is not out of the ordinary for a city official or a law enforcement official from another agency to ask for the sheriff's assistance."

The sheriff, who dispatches Kenneth City officers, looked at computer/GPS data from Sept. 1 through Nov. 30 to determine where officers were. When Zemaitis saw the results, she thought the high numbers of times officers left the city might be an anomaly.

"It was a kind of 'Oh, my gosh' reaction," she said.

She asked the sheriff to look again. This time, he looked at records from Dec. 1 through March 20 and found similar results.

Deputies also conducted surveillance on Pasley and other officers. They asked Zemaitis if they could put a GPS tracker on the chief's car to make the job easier. She said yes.

It is unclear if that was done. Pasha declined to comment on the methods the department used to gather its information.

Zemaitis, who plans to present the information at a 6:30 p.m. workshop Wednesday in the Community Hall, said she's not making a recommendation about the information. If Kenneth City residents are happy with the status quo, that's okay with her, Zemaitis said.

"I want them to voice their opinion to the council," she said.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450. Times researchers Natalie Watson and Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

About Kenneth City

. Founded: 1957 by developer Sydney Colen who said the town was "born as a protest of overbearing regulations and taxes." Colen intended the town to be a model community. It was named after his son Kenneth.

. Size: About 1 square mile

. Population: 4,980 according to the 2010 census.

. Median age: About 50.

. Operating budget: About $2.2 million.

. Police budget: About $1.2 million, or about 55 percent of the overall operating budget.

. Number of police officers: 12 plus the chief.

Source: Town of Kenneth City, 2010 U.S. census, 2005-2009 American, Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

Wandering police department gets Kenneth City mayor's attention 04/21/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 28, 2011 9:21am]

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