Before he died of cancer in May, Thrash said he wanted his wife, Suzanne Thrash, to serve out the end of his term this year, a request she had agreed to do to continue her husband’s vision for the city.
But during a highly emotional Tuesday night meeting filled with tears and bitter accusations, Mathews and council members Tim Killingsworth and Jeff Duckett voted for Matthew Riedemann to serve in the seat until the Nov. 5 election.
Suzanne Thrash left the meeting early, apparently well aware that Mathews, Killingsworth and Duckett had no intention of fulfilling her late husband’s wish. She returned only to ask for her late husband’s nameplate and photograph.
Neither Mathews, Killingsworth nor Duckett gave reasons as to why they did not want Suzanne Thrash, an active volunteer with the city’s teen center named for her late husband, to serve out the year’s term.
“I am disgusted,” Suzanne Thrash said to the council as she walked out of the meeting.
Outside, the Kennesaw Mountain High School teacher said she believes the vote was a conspiracy.
“It’s ridiculous,” Suzanne Thrash said as she left with her daughter, Mandi. “My husband at least was honorable. He did not lie … My husband died less than a month ago. This is what Bill wanted. It’s such a circus. That was a kangaroo court in there. ”
She and Riedemann put their names in the hat for the open seat, along with eight others, prior to the June 7 deadline for consideration. Per the city’s charter, the council is allowed to vote to fill the seat of a vacated council member if he/she dies within six months prior to the seat being up for election again.
After two other candidates addressed the council, Suzanne Thrash made clear she already knew the vote wouldn’t swing in her favor.
“I guess my feeling is I’m very disappointed,” she told the council. “I’ve already talked to the mayor. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. We were supposed to be able to talk things out and discuss and see what my thoughts were, my plans were. And you (addressing Killingsworth, Duckett and Mathews) never talked to me to see how I was going to vote or how I’m going to react to something. I wasn’t even given a fair shot. Is it because I’m just a woman, is that it? Is it because I have my own brain and I think? Is that why? I’m very disappointed in this council. You didn’t even give me a fair shot — the people who claim Bill was a very dear friend. Very disappointed.”
Councilman Bruce Jenkins began the discussion with a nomination for Suzanne Thrash, which was seconded by Councilwoman Cris Welsh.
Welsh explained to the council that she had a conversation with Bill Thrash prior to his death, where he told her he preferred to have his wife serve out the remainder of the year to avoid creating “a three-ring circus in our community.”
“I don’t feel like putting (Suzanne Thrash) in there is filling a warm seat,” Welsh said. “I feel like it’s just the closest thing we can get to Bill’s voice.”
Welsh also believed it would be a disservice to the community to have nothing less than a unanimous vote to fill the open seat.
“Bill was a consensus-builder,” Welsh said. “To have us not be unanimous is absolutely wrong.”
The vote for Thrash was 2-3, with Killingsworth, Duckett and Mathews opposed.
Killingsworth, an ally of the mayor, then nominated Riedemann, saying he “has a desire to serve and an ability to address issues.”
“Certainly, I think Mrs. Thrash has those abilities and I certainly don’t discount her because she is a woman,” Killingsworth said, adding he took issue with Suzanne Thrash’s accusation. “I have three of them at my house. And I certainly wouldn’t discount her because she has a brain, because my daughter is really smart and so is my wife.”
Welsh said she had a problem with Riedemann living in Legacy Park, giving that neighborhood overrepresentation with Mathews, Duckett and — as she alleged — Killingsworth, to which he grew visibly irritated, saying he does not live there.
“Based on what you just said, you’re acting as if there is some sort of conspiracy going on,” Killingsworth said.
Welsh said she did believe the vote was a conspiracy, based on her observations.
“I’m looking you in the eye, taking my glasses off,” he said, as he stared at her from across the table. “Telling you there is no conspiracy, Mrs. Welsh.”
“It’s doctor,” she responded.
Jenkins brought the discussion back to Riedemann’s residence, saying there was truth to her argument and the move would amount to “stacking the deck” toward having too many elected officials from Legacy Park.
“I think we owe (residents) a reflection of the community,” Jenkins said. “Matt has served on the KDA well but I also look at the collection of the neighborhoods and it’s nice to have different points of view.”
Killingsworth disagreed, noting council members run at-large in Kennesaw.
Prior to Riedemann’s approval, Mathews responded to all the dissent with a creaky, weak voice, unlike his usual strong tone.
“It’s been a very difficult time for our friend, our colleague, our families, our city and our employees,” Mathews said slowly, taking a long pause to choke back tears. “And unfortunately... it has brought out a very, very ugly side of people in politics and a tremendous amount of irreparable damage (has been) done in the past two, three months. This (vote) has brought it to its lowest possible point.”
Mathews went on to say that Kennesaw is an incredible city.
“We have done some incredible work,” he said. “And we have some incredible things going on that are all at risk because of personalities, emotions. I am so proud to be able to confidently get up and say over and over again for the last five-and-a-half years that I have never served with a better group of people. But a few of you have really changed that. And a couple of you have single-handedly gone out and spread vicious rumors, vicious accusations and convinced people that things have been said that are so far-fetched, but yet because of your positions of perceived power and influence you’ve been able to convince them and change their feelings and change their attitudes over others. People that some considered friends. And I considered some of you friends for many years. But I have never been stabbed in the back as many times as I have been over the last two months. Ever. Flat-out, blatant, two-faced lies.”
Mathews then went into a topic with Jenkins that occurred over the weekend at the annual Georgia Municipal Association meeting in Savannah, calling Jenkins’ actions a “perfect example” of the alleged lies.
Jenkins stood by his actions, saying the mayor convinced one of the leaders of the organization to go against the candidate recommended by the Cobb Municipal Association.
The city attorney had to redirect the conversation back to the vote, with Welsh making a substitute motion to approve Jim Sebastian, a member of the Kennesaw Citizens Advisory Committee, to fill the council seat. The motion was seconded by Jenkins, but lost in the same 3-2 breakdown.
The original motion to approve Riedemann was approved, in the same breakdown, 3-2. He will serve in the role until the seat is up for re-election.
Riedemann, who did not address the council Wednesday night, said he hopes to sit down with Suzanne Thrash in the future and try to mend wounds.
“I would like to call her and listen to her thoughts and her visions for the city, as well as Bill’s,” he said. “And see if I can incorporate that in any way I can.”
Riedemann said he doesn’t expect to fill the late councilman’s shoes, but wants to do his best to help the city.
“It’s a difficult time in the city right now,” he said. “I’m just going to do the best I can.”