Some say the divide in the council was exacerbated when longtime councilman Bill Thrash died from bladder cancer in May. The council was split in deciding who should take Thrash’s spot on the five-member council.
Mayor Mark Mathews made the tie-breaking vote in electing Matt Riedemann to the council in June, which added angst to the city’s split council members and residents.
Council members Cris Welsh and Bruce Jenkins voted to install Thrash’s wife, Suzie, as his replacement on the council, while Jeff Duckett and Tim Killingsworth opted for Riedemann.
Mathews voted to break the tie in favor of Riedemann.
From there, the council became a two-headed governmental body, split on most of the important votes, with council members Riedemann, Killingsworth and Duckett consistently voting in a bloc to overrule motions made by council members Cris Welsh and Bruce Jenkins.
Welsh brought forward motions this fall to ban smoking in nearly all businesses and public outdoor spaces and another to prohibit elected officials from texting during council meetings. Both motions were overruled and dismissed by Mathews and his allies.
Museum, credit cards spark controversy
The council was repeatedly petitioned by residents concerned with the city’s finances. Critics believed the city’s financial position was burdened by taxpayer subsidies of its top two tourist attractions, the Southern Museum of Locomotive History and the Smith-Gilbert Gardens.
Both attractions have been running deficits for years, pulling money from the city’s general fund, which is fed by fees and taxes paid by Kennesaw residents.
In the 2013 budget, city officials transferred $557,643 to the gardens and the museum in order to balance the annual budget. That figure is expected to rise to $616,322 in the 2014 budget, which was adopted in September by a 3-2 vote of the council.
In late October, city officials came under fire again for the city’s lack of a credit card policy. Residents were upset to learn their elected officials had been using credit cards with very little rules and regulations, funded with their tax dollars.
The mayor and council members had spent together about $33,000 on dinners, including one at Vic’s on the River in Savannah from July 2012 that totaled $923.20, various flights and embroidered clothing between September 2012 and September 2013, according to credit card statements.
Duckett spent roughly $4,500, Jenkins, $6,500, Welsh and Killingsworth almost $3,000 each, and the mayor about $8,200 from December 2012 through Sept. 9, 2013.
The bills were paid for and unquestioned by the city. As news of this and other hot-potato issues broke, residents responded by signing up to run for council.
By the filing deadline, residents had seven candidates to choose from on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Clean sweep of council candidates
Debra Williams, a local businesswoman who owns her own public relations and marketing business and serves on the Kennesaw Planning and Zoning Board, stunned incumbent Matt Riedemann by garnering 60 percent of the votes in the Post 4 race. She outpolled Riedemann by nearly 400 votes, tallying 1,142 to her opponent’s 757.
Jim Sebastian, chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee and owner of SAFE LLC, a consulting company, squeaked out a win over incumbent Jeff Duckett by about 30 votes.
Former Kennesaw mayor Leonard Church made a political comeback, beating incumbent councilman Bruce Jenkins and Briggett Washington in a tight race, as no candidate won 50 percent of the vote.