Kennesaw rejects trip to Dallas for mayor
by Haisten Willis
June 19, 2014 04:00 AM | 5025 views | 15 15 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mark Mathews
Mark Mathews
KENNESAW — Taxpayers likely won’t be sending a local mayor to Texas after the Kennesaw City Council voted against funding for his trip by a 3-2 vote.

Monday night, the council denied Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews a $2,500 trip to Dallas for an economic development conference Aug. 24 to 25.

“This was on the agenda as a professional courtesy to my peers, and they decided they didn’t think it was a worthy expenditure,” Mathews said.

Council members Cris Welsh, Debra Williams and Jim Sebastian voted against paying for the trip. Tim Killingsworth and Leonard Church voted in favor of it.

The trip is part of the Cobb Chamber’s Economic Development for a Growing Economy initiative and is called Opportunity Dallas 2014. The agenda item from the council meeting said the trip “is an elite opportunity to gather best practices related to all areas of the EDGE strategy. During the trip, visitors will examine how Dallas attracts talent and defines its communities as well as tour the city’s business incubators and sporting facilities and meet with Dallas’ economic development leaders.”

The agenda item said the $2,500 price tag covers “ground and air transportation, hotel and some meals.”

Welsh said it was too expensive.

“I don’t think it was a wise use of money,” she said. “The price was a huge part of it; $2,500 is a lot of money for a three-day trip.”

New members shake up council

Williams and Sebastian both are in their first year on the council. Williams said the previous council likely would have sent Mathews to Dallas.

“It’d be 3-2 in favor,” she said. “The new members — I know I can speak for Sebastian and myself — we’re looking at this entirely different.”

Williams talked about how some politicians think taxpayers should pay for programs that benefit them personally. She said former Kennesaw councilman Jeff Duckett, who lost to Sebastian last November, worked out a deal where the city paid for half of his $3,000 cost to participate in Leadership Cobb, another Chamber program. Williams said the city paid $1,500 for the program even though Duckett lost and is no longer representing the city.

“Those are the types of things that make career politicians and set politicians up for a lifestyle of staying in politics,” Williams said. “I have a huge issue with that. The citizens paid half of Duckett’s Leadership Cobb, and he was not an elected official.”

After the vote, Mathews seemed upset the council members did not mention anything about their opposition to the trip before voting against it.

“The irony of the whole thing is this was put on the agenda as a courtesy to get the authority to do so,” Mathews said. “The courtesy wasn’t extended to me. They didn’t support it or tell me they would vote against it.”

Mathews said similar expenditures were approved in the past, including “around $2,000” to pay for Welsh to attend a Cobb Chamber program in December 2013.

Welsh said that was a different situation.

“They are not even remotely the same,” she said. “I’m in the Honorary Commanders program through the Chamber. It’s $1,700, which the council voted for. It’s a year-long program and when we do excursions I pay with my own money. It’s also a program Mark has gone through. This is $2,500 for a three-day trip on economic development. Economic development is not his job.”

Welsh said Bob Fox, the city’s economic development director, would have been a better candidate to go on the trip.

Mathews said he may still attend the conference. He could veto the item, pay his own way or go using city money despite the vote.

“I haven’t made a final decision yet,” he said. “Typically, those items are put on just as a courtesy and spread on the minutes. Our charter and everything allows us to do the business of the city as we deem necessary.”

This isn’t the first time Mathews’ use of taxpayer funds has come under fire.

Between December 2012 and September 2013, Mathews spent more than $8,000 on restaurant tabs, flights to conventions and events across the country, iPad accessories and memorabilia for city residents using a city-issued credit card.

Kennesaw has no documented limits on credit card spending by the mayor and council members, who are given the cards after being sworn into office.

The MDJ exposed the council’s use of credit cards in October 2013, and Kennesaw council members Duckett, Jenkins and Matt Riedemann were swept out of office the next month.

Other officials not going

None of the other five mayors in Cobb County said they planned to go on the trip, though Brooks Mathis, executive director of the EDGE initiative and a vice president of the Cobb Chamber, said all were invited. Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee, who co-chairs the EDGE program, said he will not be attending either.

EDGE is a five-year initiative which is in its second year. The program’s goals are to create 7,500 new jobs, increase payroll earnings and income by $420 million and $7,000 per capita in Cobb County, reduce unemployment to 5.5 percent, increase the public school graduation rate by 4 percent and increase the number of college-bound students in Cobb by 7 percent, according to the program’s annual report.

Mathis said this is the third trip taken as part of EDGE. The first trip was to Fairfax, Va., and the second was to Cleveland, Ohio, where the group toured that city’s bus rapid transit program. Mathis said the trips help leaders learn from the places they visit.

“They’ve got a stadium in Dallas similar to the project we’re working (with the Braves),” Mathis said. “It will show how they are able to develop and work a stadium project. There are small business incubators we’re going to look at… We compete with Dallas quite a bit on economic development.”

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fly away
August 24, 2014
just saw the mayors facebook page, he checkin in to dallas the same time as the chamber trip......looks like the mayor went any way.. wonder who picked up the tab?
Be Careful
June 20, 2014
Ha ha ha.

Riedemann and Duckett aren't the brightest blubs.

They got booted from office BECAUSE of their close association with Mark Mathews.

Mark is going to be booted in the next election.

But they are to dim to see the writing on the wall. They mistakenly think that continuing to brown nose Mathews will get them somewhere.

Killingsworth always thinks the same thing.

The citizens of Kennesaw have finally wised up and booted the good old boy system. The ONLY reason Mark and Tim are still in office is that they weren't running this time.

They will go in the next round.
Eileen Alberstadt
June 19, 2014
Why should Mark Mathews be the only Mayor in Cobb County to attend this conference on the taxpayers dime. Stay home and tend to your City and continue to do what ever else you do. Which really is not much. Anything to get away for some social time, you are always in Mr. Mayor. This is not Dallas, TX nor do we even come close to being a major city. I applaud Debra Williams, Cris Eaton-Welsh and Jim Sebastian for their wise decisions on this matter. This is why we have a whole new ball game being played now with new players in the Chambers! P.S. Mr. Duckett, I was at the work session when you agreed to pay your half of Leadership Cobb since you were in an election year. Also; you were not a "City Employee". You were an Elected Official and that is all. You are supposed to make wise decisions for the people and what is best for the city. Mayor and Council are not City Employees. "Public Servants" is why we elected them. Mr. Duckett, I have seen you at a few City functions recently and you sir must think that you are still in office because, you and Mr. Riedemann are still sitting at the City Official Table with The Mayor and City Manager. Why? You are done. Move On.
You Got That Right
June 19, 2014
The question is what are the "right" reasons Jeff Duckett?

Pensions? Healthcare? Golf outings? Free dinners? Free Drinks?Free Trips? Unbridled access to a credit card? Ego?

Kennesaw certainly did not see any results from the "investment" in Mr Duckett. Mr Duckett's 4 years of "servant leadership" really only seemed to have served himself and his buddy the mayor. From what I understand he is more involved now than he ever was...looks like he is getting ready to run for office again. Maybe he will do a better job next time.
Andrew Jacobs
June 19, 2014
Mark Matthews' idea of economic development is simply the word 'yes'. Whatever anybody wants to build, wherever they want to build it. Why does he need training for that.

The City of Kennesaw is being greatly damaged by too many apartments and too many extended stay motels and too few nice neighborhoods.

Mark is just as bad as Leonard. They've merely swapped seats but the City still lacks leadership that will ensure Kennesaw develops in a quality way. Bravo to the ladies on the Council for stopping him on this.
Be Careful
June 19, 2014
The next election can't come soon enough.

Mark and Tim are "bye bye".

How totally SHAMEFUL that he would even threaten to veto when counncil members expressed concern on spending that much TAXPAYER money on a 3 day trip (that NO other county mayor is attending).

If he wants to go so bad, write it off as a sales trip and have his buddies at Metro Ambulance pay for it.
Jeff Duckett
June 19, 2014
Sorry that you are so ill informed Mrs Williams. Every council member and staff before that were privileged and honored to be chosen for Leadership Cobb had it paid for by the City. Any company or government entity should be proud and encourage their employees to improve upon themselves in programs like this one and others. A small price to pay to improve and enhance employee knowledge and bring new perspectives and ideas back that will benefit all. The reason that the City only paid for half of my program is because I was only guaranteed to serve on council through half of the program. I didn't think it was ethical that the City pay for the other half if I were not re-elected. If I had been, then the council had already approved to pay the other half at that time.

I believe that is the same for Honorary Commanders, GMA Conferences, Economic Development summits, etc. Leaders are always challenged to hone their skills and knowledge to continue to be effective and great leaders.

I guarantee Kennesaw would not be where we are today and in this economic boom if our leaders had not branched out and gathered the knowledge and acquired the relationships that would help us to do so. Look at all the past great events, they were not accomplished on an individual basis. It takes relationships and partnerships, as well as friendships. It takes prior knowledge, existing knowledge, and continued learning.

You say this economic summit is not worth it. How do you know?? I believe learning something to improve or enhance is always worth it. The return on investment can prove to be huge if you are in it for the right reasons.

curious about articl
June 19, 2014
I don't know anyone involved in this but I applaud Jeff Ducket for replying himself. It sounds to me like he did the ethical thing by only accepting half; and as he said, without stating he is the only person whose leadership cobb membership is paid for by their respective politic, you have presented a very biased story.
Cris Welsh
June 19, 2014
Mr Duckett, actually if you recall at the meeting it was I who requested you pay for half of the class. This was certainly not your proposal. In all truth, it was met with quite a bit of resistance. Eventually, when the rest of the council realized I was not going to back down, you acquiesced. I felt it was a bit irregular to send an elected official during their election year. More than half of the class occurred after your term expired. Additionally, I felt it was presumptuous for you to assume you would be automatically re-elected.

Debra Williams
June 20, 2014
Mr. Duckett, I apologize for not responding sooner but I've been busy working with clients this week. Now to your response. I am far from being ill-informed. I have the notes from that work session where Council Member Welsh brought to the attention that you would be attending this class in an election year and she believed you should wait until after the election and attend the next class. Of course you said at that work session that everyone else had theirs paid for, and the deep discussion began. It pretty much ended when Cris suggested you pay half, the city pay half. You suggested that if you pay half and you win the city would reimburse you. Now, that didn't happen, the win I mean. Personally, I have made it very clear that I believe each individual who signs up for and is accepted into Leadership Cobb pay their own fees. We are not employees, if that were so then the Mayor would have had a different outcome in the Ethics compliant against him (his attorney continually stated he was not an employee). I have NO problem with paying for an employee to attend because they are working 5, sometimes more days per week, and they make contacts that could help them in their jobs every day. I have yet to see these wonderful ideas and such from all these trainings, etc. that has been attended. The new Council had to attend a mandatory class and we actually did bring back information and shared it and my training book is in the file cabinet at City Hall for all to have access to. I also encouraged the sitting Council to go for a refresher course because what I learned must have been new and they needed it.

What makes a great and effective leader is one who puts the people first. Understands their role and keeps the best for the whole first and foremost in thier minds. Questions the norm and not accept what is simply put in front them believing it might go away if they don't. That doesn't have the best interest for anyone.

Continuing education is beneficial but going simply for going is not. And spending money in what continued to be touted as a bad economic downturn as an excuse for every question asked is a poor decision. With departments being asked to cut back and binds sitting out there needing to be paid, that money could have been used more wisely.

Our "boom" would happen because the economy is showing recovery. Surrounding towns are showing it as well, Kennesaw wasn't special in that realm. You mention prior knowledge, what prior knowledge did you have? What have you brought to the table currently on the Foundations you serve? How much in donations have you garnered from all these contacts you've made? A foundation is a fund-raising entity, not a networking group. There is more to a foundation than simply showing up for a meal and to vote.

I researched that summit instead of simply taking Mark's word for it and believe the better candidate to send would have been our Economic Development Director. And you did hit the nail on the head at least in the end. It can be a good return on the investment if one is in it for the right reasons. I asked a straight up question to the Mayor and got a run-around answer, that solidified my vote, and I am quite sure I voted correctly.

June 22, 2014
Had been an employee with the city of Kennesaw, the pay was behind other cities within Cobb County and continues to be bad. Our councilmembers liked to pay themselves and didn't care about the employee, seems like nothing has changed over the years. Certain councilmembers always talk about the bible when things become bad for them and talk about veterans of war. I think if you are a member of a city council that you should work for the people you represent and that work for you....Stopping making the working people pay for your stupidity and pay the folks who have made you look good!!!!

Bruce Jenkins
June 19, 2014
In my terms on the City Council, travel,training and many meetings expenses were covered with the phrase “shall be reimbursed” with the use of City credit cards,(quoting from the City Charter). In retrospect I feel many of the expenses I used the City credit card were justifiable and in line as a representative of City business. However, the taxpayers needed the understanding of why and for what these expenses where being placed on their shoulders. To speak one on one with constituents, it was made clear to me that there is an respectable cost of doing business that relate in expenses such as luncheons, training and travel. What is usually the frustration is the repeated lack of clear written documentation as to why and for what purpose each of these were taking place, to the masses and the Council. Minutes should reflect an attachment or statement from the Council member or Mayor as to why they are requesting reimbursement and not only a receipt or expense report. An update as to what transpired on the trip or meeting, giving clear transparency as to what was being discussed during a “luncheon or breakfast meeting”. Many meetings, training seminars are in good intentions to help the Council serve more effectively, however this is usually only understood by a select involved few. This “documentation” could offer insight to members to continue to share insights with the group, creating better dialogue between meetings outside the Council chamber. Since I have left office I have noted little progress in the changes or creation of a Elected Official personal policy manual that I was working on before my term expired. I hope that this is completed and guidelines are placed so that all understand and have clearer expectations of fiscal responsibilities to taxpayer expectations.

This article refers to the City credit card, in many cases the City credit card carries as an open and accurate expense account of the individual that is using it. It also has certain advantages of savings to taxpayers if it is used in travel. For example, in the travel industry certain local sales or “Hotel/Motel tax” are removed if the purchaser has a credit card that bears the name of the entity he/she represents and the entity is tax exempt, and in most cases municipalities are tax exempt. In some cases the advantages are easily justified for having the City card. The gray area is created by the phrase, “shall be reimbursed” when the card is used in advance and clear guidelines as to what is expected in return on its usage to the owner, i.e. “taxpayer” (other then just receipts). The City charter needs an amendment to more accurately dictate policy on what exactly is a “justifiable and reasonable” reimbursement, and requiring documentation for future references as to the details of the expense. In this case the people, (taxpayers) are and “shall be reimbursed” with clear understanding of how their funds are being used. Just my thoughts...

Bill in Kennesaw
June 19, 2014
As the article pointed out Mr. Mayor spends about $1,000 a month on restaurant meals and assorted junk. He lives high on the taxpayers funds but that is no surprise as he stiffed 140 or so people and businesses when he went bankrupt for over $1,000,000 in 2009. He put in to the paperwork even the tiniest amounts, like $30 to UPS and $32 to Georgia Oak Floors. Not much chance of him being elected again so he wants to get as much as he can while he can. We could pass the hat for a collection to send him, but he would have to promise not to come back.
that's it?
June 19, 2014
1,000 / 20 workings days = $50/day. TA major probably entertains 5-7 days per week so its not really that bad considering he is probably lunching with 3-4 people per day and possibly having lunches and dinners with others.
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