Candidates keep it cool in Kennesaw
by Hannah Morgan
October 23, 2013 12:44 AM | 2844 views | 7 7 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Incumbents and challengers listen to Jeff Duckett, far left, make a point during Tuesday night’s Kennesaw City Council candidate debate at the Robertson Community Center. The other candidates include, from left: Bruce Jenkins, Matt Riedemann, Leonard Church, Jim Sebastian, Briggett Washington and Debra Williams.<br>Staff/Jeff Stanton
Incumbents and challengers listen to Jeff Duckett, far left, make a point during Tuesday night’s Kennesaw City Council candidate debate at the Robertson Community Center. The other candidates include, from left: Bruce Jenkins, Matt Riedemann, Leonard Church, Jim Sebastian, Briggett Washington and Debra Williams.
Staff/Jeff Stanton
slideshow
A near capacity crowd fills the Ben Robertson Community Center on Tuesday night to hear the debate among candidates for the Kennesaw City Council race.<br>Staff/Jeff Stanton
A near capacity crowd fills the Ben Robertson Community Center on Tuesday night to hear the debate among candidates for the Kennesaw City Council race.
Staff/Jeff Stanton
slideshow
KENNESAW — The seven candidates running for the three open positions on the Kennesaw City Council met last night to discuss increasing the city’s diversity and pulling in the reins of the city officials’ personal spending practices.

With the election just two weeks away, the Legacy Park Homeowners Association and the English Oaks Homeowners Association sponsored a forum for the candidates to answer questions in front of the more than 100 residents in attendance.

Responsibility, accountability, productivity and honesty were all traits that the candidates promised to bring to the council, although very few specifics were given as to how they would achieve these goals.

What began as a fierce discussion of the city’s finances, which touched on the financially dependent city-owned museum and concerns with a city-wide pension system for city employees, faded into a discussion over what dreams the candidates had for the city’s future.

Audience members were forbidden from clapping or directly asking questions, and were asked to write their questions on note cards, which were then collected by members of the home owners association, and given to the moderator for discussion.

Lined up across the hall in the Ben Robertson Community Center, just down the street from City Hall, the candidates answered a series of open-ended questions for two hours Tuesday night.

Each candidate expressed concerns over “excessive city spending” and the unfunded pension plan that is in place for the city’s employees, although nobody brought a direct answer to the table, nor heartily disagreed with each other’s proposals.

“Every dime spent should be accounted for. Elected officials are responsible for the taxpayers’ dollar. Accountability requires responsibility,” said Debra Williams, who is challenging Councilman Matt Riedemann.

Other candidates echoed her sentiments.

James Sebastian, who is challenging Councilman Jeff Duckett, suggested city employees pay into a 401(k) plan to set up funds for their retirement before they actually retire. This notion was backed by all of the other candidates.

When asked for a show of hands which candidates were in favor of a city-wide smoking ban, former Mayor Leonard Church and Briggett Washington, who are both challenging Councilman Bruce Jenkins, raised their hands, both chuckling as they did so.

Candidates were pressed to define how they would bring more businesses to downtown Kennesaw, in efforts to develop the city to more closely resemble Acworth and Smyrna. When asked for specifics, very few were given, and candidates spoke of dreams and plans they had in the works such as redeveloping Cherokee Street.

“The city is full of opportunity right now,” said Jenkins, noting he hopes to have the city work more closely to draw Kennesaw State University students to the downtown.

As members of the audience left the room, candidates were prompted to describe how they would accentuate more culture and bring more diversity to the city.

Washington promised to work to create more diversity in the city, and to celebrate the current diversity the city had.

When pressed to pass judgment on whether or not the city should continue to fund the city’s Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, the candidates were split.

While all admitted that the museum brought tourism and vital charm to the city, only Sebastian and Williams dared to admit they believed the museum’s budget needed to be re-examined.

Duckett said the museum added to the city’s quality of life, and that he did not expect the museum to ever make a profit. He said the city should instead focus on the tourism revenues it brings in.

As the event came to a close, Williams said, “I believe it’s time to give the city back to the people. The only thing that separates us from Washington D.C. is that we are not on television,” as fellow candidates nodded their heads.

Frank Ruechel, a history teacher at Life University, who has lived in Kennesaw for 31 years, said he was happy the debate drew to light the city’s growing diversity.

“It’s not just a white man’s county anymore,” he said.

Other residents were disappointed by the lack of specifics the candidates gave to their answers, especially on their ideas for fixing the city’s finances.

“There weren’t many concrete answers. Not a lot of specifics,” said 13-year city resident Ken Wallace, who had never been to a city function. He said he was drawn to Tuesday’s debate because he finally wanted to get involved in his city.

“A lot of the questions seemed repetitive,” said Kathleen Smith, a 13-year Kennesaw resident and freelance writer.

Regardless, many of Tuesday night’s attendees said they planned to vote on Election Day, November 5.

Comments
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Leonard & Matthew
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October 25, 2013
Ok, now I have seen it all in all. Both of these characters talking about integrity, honest, and using tax payer funds? Go to this site and type in their names. http://media.ethics.ga.gov/search/Late/Late_ByName.aspx

You see that Bridgetta , Matthew and Loeonard owe $250.00 in fines for not doing the paper work on the campaigns. This is awful to think that we should trust them to handle our government. What is worse, I understand that a Mr.Dowdy is doing Leonard's signs, isn't he the bigot who had to resign from the council and cost the city millions in a lawsuit. So much for cultural diversity Bridgetta and picking good business partners Leonard. (Guess losing four times wasn't bad enough). Got to wonder if Mr. Dowdy and Leonard are so close, did they have the same feelings toward blacks? How about somebody look at this? Got me if this bunch is trying to bang back th good old boys with Mark as the head of it. Time to send Mark and his little band a packin.
KennMuss
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October 25, 2013
Did you know that each and every resident in the City of Kennesaw pays about $120 to subsidize the museum? And more for Gilbert Gardens!?

Do you know that no one is held accountable? What is the marketing plan? The actual volume of folks that visit the museum is so small that the benefit to the local economy argument is a farce. But you can see in the comments below how good these folks are at MATH.

For that much you would think city residents would get a huge discount or free pass - maybe that would spark some folks to actually go visit the place. Right now it is very poorly run and not terribly interesting. The folks who back it were some of the very same that were all for building it and are now on the Museum's Board and the Town Council. They will never say their baby is ugly! Not to mention the complete conflict of interest.

Between the Museum, the Gardens, unfunded cadillac pensions for council,people day ONE in office, totally subsidized cadillac healthplans - the city is being grossly mismanaged. The expenses have gotten as rotund as the mayor under his reigns.
confused in kennesaw
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October 25, 2013
Riedemann walked away from his home in Legacy Park and allowed it to go into foreclosure. How is that for "helping your community and neighbors?"

Should skill sets like - owning a home, managing a mortgage and not letting it go into foreclosure be PREREQUISITES to running for office and making financial decisions for the town?

I know the mayor doesn't think so as he has a huge bankruptcy with dozens and dozens of creditors.

These are skill sets that are SUPREMELY important. We deserve better. Much better.
Concerned in Kenn
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October 23, 2013
How hilarious that candidates talk about fiscal responsibility when the mayor and Riedemann bankruptcies, foreclosures and tort lawsuit judgements against them. These are the last folks that should be making financial decisions for Kennesaw!
Kennesaw Mountain
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October 23, 2013
When is the next mayoral election? The rotten smell starts at the top.
Museum Mess
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October 23, 2013
So Jeff says he never expects the museum to make a profit. That's because he's seen the attendence figures. Nobody goes to the museum. It's a white elephant sucking up citizens tax money like a black hole. Who's quality of life is being improved when nobody goes?

And they keep talking about the economic impact of tourism because of the museum. Yet, nobody, ever, has produced any report or study to proove there is an impact.

Given the small number of guests, there CAN'T be any measurable impact. Not enough to justify all the tax money spent proping it up.

Isn't there also an ethical issue, having the mayor and council members on the museum board?

Politics stinks in Kennesaw and they really need to elect new members to council.
Just an Observer
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October 24, 2013
I agree with you 100%. I do not believe a Mayor or any City Council Member should be on the Museum Board. Kennesaw is ready for new blood. I have not seen any betterment on Main Street in the last 9 years that I have been here. Yes, BurgerFi and Piasano's are an asset. We had Trader’s 22 (The little Coffee and Latte Shop on Lewis Street) that had to shut its doors because of low sales. Where was the City to help them thrive? We need lots more life to a sleeping city. Light up the trees, make downtown attractive like Acworth and Woodstock. Those people have it right. Why can't this town be like them? New Blood! New Blood! New Blood! The Council should be able to think on their own, and not be told what to vote on and who to go against. We all see what goes on in this town and in the meetings. It’s Hateful! And it needs to be stopped. A busybody who informs the higher ups what goes on and there is no agreeing, just opposition, and that is just to rattle cages. Get it together! The People of Kennesaw are fed up! If you cannot do for Kennesaw, then by God, Step down and let the more qualified and educated take the lead. Stop taking freebies, pensions and medical. I talk to people everyday and ask if they were ever given a pension or benefits on their first day. I do believe that the “National Guard” that was referred to on Tuesday Night as part timers, by Mr. Duckett do a job protecting our country on our own turf deserve a pension much more than a part time (ELECTED OFFICIAL), and It is my understanding that they have to do 20 years before given a pension. Don’t even try and compare the Guard to the Mayor and Council Members. New Ideas are needed, because the stagnant situation that we are in a present is Not working. And Stop the Electronics at the meetings. It is a slap in the face to those who attend! Mr. Riedemann, you are not the best person to be sitting in a seat of any kind of a Financial Liaison with your Financial Track Record.
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