Efforts continue in Kenneth City to fulfill the legal requirements for a special election this fall and an opportunity to boot the current mayor from office.
About 15 people are going door to door almost daily in an attempt to add signatures to a petition to recall Mayor Robert Howell, according to Jeffrey Pfannes, who lost the 2021 election to Howell and is organizing the current initiative. A number of signatures were obtained at a June 21 public event at James P. Ernst Park where the gazebo was adorned with signs reading “Save Our Town” and “Why Did They Quit?” among others. The latter phrase was in reference to the recent slew of staff resignations at Town Hall.
According to the town’s code, the recall petition must be backed by at least 10 percent of the registered voters in the last regular election. That number is 3,056, so the recall petition would require 306 signatures.
The reason Howell is the sole target of the current recall effort can be traced to when his position and those of the councilmembers get decided in elections. Vice mayor Kyle Cummings and councilmember Bonnie Noble have also raised the ire of this group of concerned citizens, but Cummings’s seat will be up for grabs again in the next regular election – March 2023 – while Noble won her seat in March of this year and cannot be recalled until she has served at least six months.
Council elections are every year, with two of the four seats up for election at one time. Noble and Megan Zemaitis won this year, both unopposed. Cummings and Barbara Roberts won in 2021, which is also when Howell won the mayoral race. The mayor serves three years, which means Howell has nearly two years left – unless the recall succeeds.
During his conversation with The Gabber, Pfannes noted more than once that the petition signatures were being gathered to meet guidelines set by the Pinellas County Board of Elections.
But that office does not oversee this process.
“The city clerk in Kenneth City is the legal supervisor of elections for all municipal-related contests, including recall elections,” said Dustin Chase, a spokesman with the Board of Elections. “Because we don’t know what the municipality’s laws are, we would never be in a position to tell someone the number of petitions required or even the deadlines.”
Chase said his department will only get involved in overseeing the actual election should it come to pass, as it typically contracts with Kenneth City to handle all of its regular elections.
Since town clerk Ana Cabezas resigned earlier this month, Jocelyn Martinez is handling the duties of that office on an interim basis.
Pete Cavalli, whose final day as town manager was June 26, told The Gabber that the petitioners have 30 days from when they began their campaign to have the minimum number of signatures turned in.
Pfannes said that if the current petition deadline is not met to force a November special election, his group can continue working toward a March recall next year. If that were successful, Noble’s seat could be included along with Howell’s, he added.
Amid a whirlwind of allegations thrown about by both sides of a hostile work environment at Town Hall and illegal activity within its offices, Keren Thomas has one piece of advice to her fellow Kenneth City residents which she shared on social media.
“Watch the town YouTube videos,” she said, referring to where the Town Council meetings are broadcast and archived. “Those don’t lie.”