KENNESAW — Striding to the podium as Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” played on the PA system, doling out high-fives and back slaps along the way, Mayor Derek Easterling was fired up.

As he leapt up onto the stage to deliver his 2021 State of the City address, Easterling raised his fists and declared, “It’s my life! It’s my choice! Good afternoon!”

Speaking to a crowd of nearly 150 members and guests of the Kennesaw Business Association on Tuesday, Easterling delivered an impassioned speech that highlighted Kennesaw’s accomplishments in 2020, and sketched a vision of what 2021 will bring to the city.

Much of Easterling’s remarks were dedicated to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the mayor presenting the case that the new year is the time to push onward and “reopen” the economy.

“I’m not going back. I’m moving forward,” Easterling said, later adding, “I’m more concerned about not opening our economy. I’m not sure we’re gonna have anything left worth saving if we don’t move forward now.”

Easterling was critical of government efforts to contain the virus by mandating business closures.

“COVID did not shut down your businesses or your favorite restaurant. Government regulation and rules did,” Easterling said. “I may be more of a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington than I am a Mr. Rogers. But this is my neighborhood. And I believe that government needs to stay in their lane.”

Easterling also discussed the accomplishments of Kennesaw’s local government and business partners throughout 2020, especially in combatting the pandemic. Among those was securing $1.8 million in federal funding through the CARES Act, which Easterling said helped pay for improvements like touch-free water fixtures and new equipment to allow the city to conduct its governmental affairs virtually.

Kennesaw’s Parks and Recreation department worked in 2020 to open an inclusive playground and undertake an expansion to its recreation center. Easterling noted that project is expected to be completed in the fall of 2021.

Additional accomplishments that Easterling named included improvements to the city’s museum, putting on Kennesaw’s Big Shanty festival in November and revamping truck route signage and other infrastructure projects.

Regarding 2021, Easterling laid out a few priority items for his next year in office. Chief among those will be completing Kennesaw’s projects from the 2016 special purpose local option sales tax package, which include additional recreation projects and highway infrastructure construction. The city will also begin preparing to start its 2022 SPLOST projects, for which $34 million has been assigned, Easterling said.

Easterling’s address was hosted by the Governors Gun Club in Kennesaw, and preceded by speakers including Cobb Chamber of Commerce Chairman John Loud and Cassandra Stiff, president of the Kennesaw Business Association.

Still called upon the attendees to regard 2021 as a year to prioritize “effort over talent,” and move from “surviving to thriving.”

“No one is immune from life’s hardships, right?” Stiff said. “But how we respond to those challenges is where our character is built.”

Stiff then addressed the crowd.

“Because what doesn’t kill us, makes us…” she said. A few attendees called out, “Stronger!”

“That didn’t go so well,” she said, laughing. “Let’s try it again. What doesn’t kill us, makes us ... “

And the crowd cried out, in unison this time, “Stronger!”

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