Editor’s note: After reading this article online, Noble called The Gabber to explain she had not moved; she had asked the police chief to move a couch for someone else.
Pre-meeting, the tension between a crowd of at least 30 residents and the Kenneth City Council was blatant.
On Wed., June 8 a group of Kenneth City citizens [equipped with protest signs] challenged the Kenneth City Council on its decision to appoint management consulting firm, Imagine That, in lieu of rehiring a clerk, manager, and town attorney
In two years, Kenneth City has lost two town managers, an interim manager, two town clerks, a police chief, two executive assistants, and Randy Mora, town attorney, is also leaving. Mora’s contract expires in November of this year, but he emailed the Council his 30-day notice shortly after 10 p.m. on June 8.
Town Manager Pete Cavalli’s last day is June 26. Town Clerk Ana Cabezas left on June 10. Cavalli did not give a reason for leaving, but Cabezas maintained that she accepted a position in Seminole.
Former Kenneth City Mayor Teresa Zemaitis (mother of current Kenneth City council member Megan Zemaitis) claims the high turnover in staff is due to an overruling monopoly between council members Bonnie Noble, Kyle Cummings, and Kenneth City Mayor Rob Howell.
A Town in Chaos
On June 8, the council voted 3-2 to hire Imagine That to get the Town ready ready to re-hire replacements for the resigning staff.
The decision prompted an eruption of groans, and more than half of the audience left the town hall.
As angry residents predicted, Megan and council member Barbara Roberts voted no and Noble, Cummings, and Howell voted yes. The managing firm started June 13.
“Malfeasance on the part of Noble and Howell is causing us to go through this process again,” said former mayor Theresa Zemaitis in a letter to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. “Negligence on the part of Noble, Howell, and Cummings is going to make those [hiring] costs even higher this time and put us at risk of missing deadlines for budgets, et al.”
Zemaitis, among others, signed a letter asking for DeSantis to step in and issue a re-election due to an alliance between the three city officials. Residents also claimed that Kenneth City police officers were ordered to help Noble move. (Editor’s note: After reading this article online, Noble called The Gabber to explain she had not moved; she had asked the police chief to move a couch for someone else.)
Imagine That, led by Rob Duncan, managing director of the firm, elicited concerns from Megan and Roberts. Duncan’s team has worked with Kenneth City before, last year, when they lost their town manager. This year, Duncan estimates his firm will take 2-4 months to finish the surplus of work in Kenneth City. Imagine That will not find them a new manager and staff, but provide them stability to do so.
“We can’t forget that we already pay $30,000 a month for our current town hall employees,” Noble said. ”It’s not like we all of sudden have expenses. We’ve already worked with Imagine That; they know the town. I’m trying to do what’s best for the town.”
Any time Noble spoke, the audience shouted in disagreement.
“All the sudden ‘bam’ they’re here with a contract,” Megan, who Zoomed into the meeting due to an illness, said. “How are we going to pay for this?”
Megan and Roberts claim they were never asked to meet and narrow down consulting companies. The mayor said he did ask them, and received no response.
After voting to hire Imagine That, Council addressed Bob Daniels, a town manager applicant who was waiting on the Zoom call to introduce himself since the start of the meeting.
It’s possible Daniels will be considered for a position as Kenneth City town manager later in the process, but for now, Council told him, his interview is on hold.
“I’ll see you when you get to the manager,” Daniels said, and logged off.
Allegations of Sunshine Violations
Among two council members and many residents, the biggest issue Wednesday night was Imagine That’s presence and contract at the meeting.
“I’m not sure who asked him to make a contract and date it for today,” Roberts said. “There was stuff done behind closed doors.”
Duncan, flanked by the three other Imagine That executives who will work with the City claims he was not asked by any councilmembers to come, but instead decided to show up as a free agent and offer services.
“So much work needs to be done in a short period of time,” Duncan said.
For the time being, Duncan will serve as interim town manager.
“You’re posing challenges with no solutions,” Duncan said. “This is short term, we’re here to get you to a better place as opposed to right now, which doesn’t feel as functional as you would like it to be.”
Despite his claims, many residents were clear they believed Duncan met with councilmembers before the meeting, and planned to step in behind closed doors.
Racism at the Meeting
At public comment, Tony Chan, who said he’s worked in staffing and recruiting for the City of St. Pete, spoke to the council.
“I’m here to say, Imagine That is a very impressive staff. I can tell you their contract is impressive, but it’s on the high side,” Chan said. “We’re in America; this is capitalism – let’s get the best rate possible.”
When Chan’s three minute time limit went up, another resident asked to give him her time. Council allowed it.
“I don’t know what time it is in China, but we’re not in China!” yelled one unnamed resident sitting in the crowd.
Chan is Asian-American.
“‘I’m urging the council to not select Imagine That… it would be fiscally irresponsible,” Chan said, ignoring the comment.
Chris Vanderkooi, one of the residents outside protesting pre-meeting, took the microphone.
“You are not dictators, you work for us,” Vanderkooi said. “Do not shake your head at constituents.”
Mayor Howell asked him to not threaten the council.
“I love Kenneth City, and I don’t want to see anybody ruin it,” Vanderkooi said.
Despite the obvious distress, Imagine That started this Monday, working with Kenneth City to get the town to a more functional position. The Town needs to hire a new city manager, clerk, and attorney.
This is an ongoing story and The Gabber will continue to cover it.