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.