Three seats on the City Council are up for election, and the city’s historic 3-2 voting bloc might be shattered if familiar faces get replaced by new ones.
With the current council, Mayor Mark Mathews has received unwavering support from council members Tim Killingsworth and Jeff Duckett, while council members Bruce Jenkins and Cris Welsh have tended to vote against the mayor on important issues.
Councilman Matthew Riedemann has been on the council only four months, not long enough to establish a voting pattern one way or the other.
But Riedemann’s appointment to the council was made possible by a tie-breaking vote from the mayor in late June, when a temporary replacement was needed following the death of Councilman Bill Thrash from cancer.
The mayor’s voting bloc is on the line in Tuesday’s election.
Duckett and Riedemann are facing challenges from upstart candidates who say they want to see change.
James Sebastian, chair of the Kennesaw Citizens Advisory Committee and owner of SAFE LLC, a consulting company specializing in product warrantees, is pitted against Duckett.
Debra Williams, who owns her own public relations and marketing business and serves on the Kennesaw Planning and Zoning Board, is challenging Riedemann. If even one of those incumbents loses, it will shake up the council, depending on what happens in the third race, in which incumbent Jenkins faces opposition from Briggett Washington, CEO of the nonprofit, Marietta-based Cobb Alzheimer’s Foundation, and former Mayor Leonard Church.
Welsh said previously ignored efforts to approve a strict credit card and travel expense policy for elected officials, a ban on texting during meetings and a discussion on how to fix the city’s debt-ridden Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History might make it past mere discussion at council meetings.
Residents of the city have weighed in on the election’s biggest issues this year more than ever before, candidates say. And that community passion about local government is something they hope to maintain, they say, regardless of who is elected.
“This election has absolutely torn this city apart,” said Welsh, who has brought forward controversial issues such as a city-wide smoking ban and a ban on texting during meetings, only to see them stalled until after the election.
A recent MDJ report on Riedemann’s personal bankruptcy and other financial troubles, along with a second report on how each elected official has used the city credit card, caused the discussion to shift from city issues to personal issues, Welsh said.
Welsh, who is not up for re-election, said she hopes the election will enable the council to “have a disagreement with each other and walk away and still be friends.” She added “the tone that we have right now doesn’t really allow for that kind of conversation.”
Debra Williams, who is challenging Riedemann, agrees.
She hopes real discussions will be conducted in council meetings dealing with important financial issues. She wants to see a strict credit card policy put in place and enforced, and she also wants the council to take up the issue of why the city offers pension plans to part-time elected officials.
Jenkins, who is being challenged by Washington and Church, said the election has brought out many residents, albeit divided.
Regardless of who is elected, Jenkins hopes the council will come up with “a very tight understanding” of what the city’s financials are regarding credit card policies and the museum funds.
James Sebastian, who is running for Duckett’s seat on the council, has previously stated that he is in support of stricter spending policies for elected officials, as well as of having council members take a close reading of the city’s budget, especially the funds currently going to support the city’s museum.
Council members Riedemann, Duckett and Killingsworth did not return phone calls or emails for this article.
When Jenkins stopped by an early voting site Friday afternoon, he said 200 residents had already been out to vote, much higher than he had anticipated.
Voting will take place across the city on Tuesday.