By Rebecca Gaunt
Kennesaw City Manager Jeff Drobney was adamant during Wednesday’s press conference that the city’s process was followed properly in issuing a business license for the controversial Wildman’s Civil War shop on Main Street.
“There seems to be some misunderstanding from people about how a business license is issued. It’s not discretionary on our part, as a local government, to issue a business license to an applicant that meets all state, county, and city codes and ordinances,” Drobney said.
Word of the reopening spread quickly after a former council member, Cris Eaton-Welsh, posted on her Facebook page that she was selling her Main Street storefront in protest and moving her chiropractic business to unincorporated Cobb County. City staff was inundated with calls and emails.
Councilman James “Doc” Eaton, Eaton-Welsh’s father, submitted his resignation Tuesday over its reopening. He told CBS46 he was frustrated because legally there was nothing the city could do.
In the letter he wrote, “I cannot in good conscience continue to be associated with a system that will allow this to continue in our community.”
A special election to fill his post will take place Nov. 8.
Eaton-Welsh called issuing a new license an “act of cowardice by the city” and wrote, “Today, a new business license was issued here in the city of Kennesaw that will allow a fresh face to carry on the bigotry and hate that is housed one block from my office.”
She also wrote, in a different post, that the “Cobb County Government Fire Marshall administratively approved the CO for a building that hasn’t been inspected in DECADES…That is not what any of any other Kennesaw business and especially Downtown Kennesaw Merchants are put through when we opened our businesses or changed ownership in our spaces…”
While Drobney didn’t name Eaton-Welsh as the source of the social media allegations, he specifically refuted claims in her posts and in her father’s resignation letter to the city that she posted in the comments.
“We’ve got the dates,” he said. “As for the insinuation that there is a laundry list of violations that have been overlooked, or that were grandfathered in, is absurd. There’s no way you can grandfather in a code violation.”
According to Drobney, the Cobb County Fire Marshall made two inspection visits: May 27 and June 7. City building inspectors visited on June 3 and provided a list of corrections when Wildman’s failed. It passed on the reinspection that took place June 7, the same day as the second fire marshall visit.
“This is not something that just came out of the blue, that the city of Kennesaw just gave them a business license without any due diligence,” Drobney said.
“This has been ongoing since March…They went through the process that any other business applying for a business license in the city of Kennesaw would go through 100 percent. We held them to the same standard.To say anything else or to infer anything else is a boldfaced lie or a misrepresentation of the truth,” he continued.
He said that in the attempt to reopen, parties working on behalf of the store did try to bypass the inspection process, but city staff didn’t allow it.
Dent Myers owned and operated the store from the time it opened in 1971 until his death in January at age 90. His friend and former employee, Marjorie Lyon, reopened the store Tuesday after receiving the business license from the city.
The store has been the subject of protests because it sells figurines that caricaturize Black people, pro-segregation memorabilia, and displays a Ku Klux Klan robe and a noose and has several Confederate flags prominently displayed on the storefront.
During the press conference, Drobney was asked if the council was considering changes to local ordinances as a way to get rid of the store.
“That’s not something I can speak to. I can’t speak for the City Council,” he said.
The city provided packets to the press with copies of Lyon’s application forms, inspection reports, interior photos, email correspondence about the application, and tax information.
Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.