Life goes on in Kenneth City as the faces inside Town Hall continue to change.
Town manager Pete Cavalli gave The Gabber an update on who will be taking care of the town’s business in the weeks to come. A contract has been signed with Imagine That Performance, LLC, the firm recently approved by the council to handle the transition in the wake of recent multiple staff departures. The decision to retain the firm passed with a 3-2 vote, as the dissenting council members wanted to solicit bids first.
Cavalli’s 10-month stint as town manager ends Sunday, June 26. Former town clerk Ana Cabezas left her job for good June 17, as did the city’s contracted accountant. Attorney Randy Mora has given his 30-day notice and will be gone July 8. Over a two-year span, Kenneth City has lost two town managers, one interim town manager, two town clerks, and two executive assistants.
Some personnel from Imagine That are already on site at Town Hall, according to Cavalli. The firm’s managing director, Ron Duncan, will act as a sort of interim town manager, Cavalli said, with several local people working by contract with Imagine That to handle specific areas. The contract directs the council to issue task orders for various assignments, he added.
Kenneth City has 28 total employees, 18 of whom are in the police department. Fire service and building department tasks – permits and inspections – are contracted out to Pinellas Park, Cavalli said.
Recent actions by the town’s elected officials have resulted in mass protests at the June 8 Town Council meeting, an ongoing movement to have a recall election, and a plea to the state’s highest elected official for help.
Jeffrey Pfannes, who lost his bid for mayor in the last election by just over 100 votes, is spearheading an effort to collect signatures on a petition to recall Mayor Robert Howell. Pfannes told The Gabber June 20 that about 400 signatures, well above the required 320, would be collected by June 24 so that the process can move forward in time for a new election in November.
Pfannes’s petition cites “malfeasance, misfeasance, and incompetence” as reasons to boot Howell from office. Specific charges include violations of the town charter Section 2.04c, which prohibits the mayor and council from circumventing the town manager and directly supervising town employees:
“Interference with administration. The council and its members shall deal with town officers and employees who are subject to the direction and supervision of the manager solely through the manager, and neither the council nor its members shall give orders to any such officer or employee, either publicly or privately.”
“His actions have created an uncomfortable work environment and have played a critical role in the departure of two town managers and an interim manager, the town clerk, two administrative assistants, our town accountant, and our town attorney,” the petition states.
The petition also asserts that Howell has repeatedly gone against Mora’s legal advice, most recently when pushing the Imagine That deal after being advised to solicit bids.
“Howell refused to discuss other bids for services or applicants for the open positions and instead voted to hire Imagine That for all town services despite their exorbitant fees wasting taxpayer dollars,” according to the petition.
Pfannes said if the required signatures are not collected by June 24, the recall can still happen, but it would not be until March. If that is the case, councilmember Bonnie Noble will be added to the recall list. She currently cannot be recalled because she has not been in office six months, according to Pfannes.
Meanwhile, there has been no response from Tallahassee to a recent request for state intervention. Teresa Zemaitis, a former Kenneth City mayor whose daughter Megan is a current council member, wrote a five-page letter dated May 19 to Gov. Ron DeSantis, in which she cited this recent statement by Mora to the council: “There are various internal and external factors that legitimately jeopardize the viability of your community.”
Zemaitis asked the governor to suspend Howell, councilmember Noble, and possibly vice mayor Kyle Cummings from office until an investigation could be performed. She also sent her letter to state Sen. Jeff Brandes, state Rep. Linda Chaney, state attorney general Ashley Moody, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, and state CFO Jimmy Patronis.