Candidate Q&As: Kennesaw City Council Post 5 special election 

Brick Kennesaw government building with four tall wooden columns

by Rebecca Gaunt

Five candidates qualified to be on the ballot for the May 21 special election to fill Post 5 on Kennesaw City Council.

Former council member Robert “Trey” Sinclair resigned in January. The winner of the election will complete his original term which ends in 2025. 

Kennesaw City Council members serve at large. It is a nonpartisan position. The Courier sent an email questionnaire to all the candidates.

Jason Acree

Age:  50

How long have you lived in Kennesaw:  

Raised in Kennesaw, moved inside the City in 2018


Bachelor of Science in Construction Management – Georgia Tech (1996)

Master of Business Administration – Kennesaw State University (2021)

VP Preconstruction Services – McKibbon Places


Facebook page: Jason Acree for Kennesaw City Council

You have previously mentioned safety and development are two of your major focuses. Can you elaborate on what that means and how you plan to achieve those goals?

The Kennesaw Police Department is doing an excellent job in serving the community. I want to make sure they continue to receive the funding and support necessary to maintain their training, have up to date equipment, and sufficient personnel to continue keeping Kennesaw safe.

Development is the key to sustainability and growth. I’d like to see more offices and shops in the downtown area. It’d be great to have this area more activated. Very excited to see the amphitheater nearing completion. I’d also like to see a mixed use development at the intersection of 41 and Kennesaw Due West. There’s great potential to turn this area into a development that supports the special needs community with housing, job training/employment, and medical services.

What do you view as Kennesaw’s greatest strengths?

There are so many strengths: the people who call Kennesaw home, the excellent schools, the businesses, the parks, the KPD and first responders supporting the area, the close proximity to the interstate for travel, the shopping, KSU, the restaurants, the airport,…Kennesaw is very blessed to have so much! Our City has also done a great job managing its finances over the years.

What is(are) your biggest concern(s) regarding the city?

Safety. Kennesaw is a very safe city. We all need to continue to do our part in reporting concerns and watching out for others. We also need to continue to provide KPD with excellent resources for personnel, training, and equipment. We need to install more sidewalks throughout the City in order to better protect pedestrians.

Traffic. Traffic will always be a hot topic for Kennesaw. We have so many people coming from West Cobb and Paulding County that pass-through Kennesaw to get to the interstate. We need to continue working with county DOTs to help speed up improvements for significant intersections. Working with state DOT officials to create an access to 75 at 3rd Army Road would be helpful. 

Describe your previous involvement in the city via volunteering, elected office, etc.

I volunteered a lot with the Kennesaw Mountain Band program when our daughter was there. I have applied to serve on the Planning Commission. I ran in the Special Election a couple of years ago for Post 1.

Is there anything you would like to change in the zoning codes and, if so, why?

I’m sure there are items that need to be revised and updated. I’d work with Darryl Simmons and the staff of Kennesaw’s Planning and Zoning department to identify the codes that need revision or removal. There may be new Zoning Codes that need to be added to address the current and growing needs of the community.

If you had a $1 million grant for the city, how would you use it?

Great question. The typical answer would involve investment in police and first responder equipment, funding youth sports and activity programs, better traffic controls or improved traffic patterns at Mack Dobbs and 41, installation of sidewalks on both sides of 41 from Jiles north to Mack Dobbs or Blue Springs, or investing in major capital upgrades for City facilities. Personally, I’d use that money to help redevelop the empty land at Kennesaw Due West and 41 (from the Columns building to Culvers) into an area that supports the special needs community with places of employment, training, day centers, medical care, and special needs assisted living apartments.

Ben Day

Age: 35

How long have you lived in Kennesaw: 7 years 

Education/Job: BS., Chemistry and Political Science; Master of Divinity with Certificate in Anglican Studies; The Episcopal Church, Rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Kennesaw


You list your campaign priorities as thriving families, prospering business, and safe communities. Can you elaborate on what that means and how you plan to achieve those goals?

Each of these priorities speak to how local/municipal government possesses the unique ability to affect the lives of its citizens. 

  1. Thriving Families:
    My priority is to enhance the quality of life for families within our community. We will achieve this by increasing recreational opportunities, improving municipal services, and fostering a sense of community through family-friendly events and amenities like festivals, arts infrastructure, parks, and public gatherings. In addition, we help families thrive by keeping our neighborhoods safe and secure to nurture and grow a family by keeping crime, blighted structures, and dangerous transportation out of our city (see safe communities below). 
  1. Prospering Businesses:
    Supporting our local businesses is crucial for economic growth and vitality. I am committed to streamlining bureaucratic processes, simplifying zoning requirements, and increasing accountability to make it easier for entrepreneurs and investors to start and sustain businesses in our community. Additionally, I will be responsive to the needs of business owners and provide support when necessary to foster a healthy business environment. I hope as a member of Council, I can increase the transparency and responsiveness of our local government to those who invest and live here. 
  1. Safe Communities:
    Ensuring the safety and well-being of our residents is my top priority. We will invest in infrastructure improvements to enhance walkability and bikeability, as well as prioritize the maintenance of streets, sidewalks, and pathways to create a safer environment for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, alike. Additionally, I advocate for the continued investment in law enforcement training, technology and equipment to maintain high standards of public safety and retain our top-tier officers. I have been privileged to serve as their chaplain for six years, and Kennesaw has the best officers in the state. We must invest to continue that legacy.

What do you view as Kennesaw’s greatest strengths?

Its citizens! Kennesaw’s citizens are its heart and soul! Our city is characterized by an overwhelmingly friendly, warm, and connected community. Whether you’re walking around our annual festivals, attending worship, joining a civic organization, dining in our outstanding restaurants, or spending the day in our parks and recreation facilities, you’ll encounter smart, interesting, and hospitable people who genuinely care about one another.

It’s this sense of connection and community that drew me to make Kennesaw my home, and it’s what motivates me to serve on the Council. I am excited about the opportunity to contribute to this vibrant and welcoming community in a new way, and I look forward to working alongside my fellow citizens to continue making Kennesaw a place where everyone feels like family.

What is(are) your biggest concern(s) regarding the city?

Our biggest challenge is the unregulated and seemingly disorganized growth that Kennesaw has experienced in the last decade. As someone who is pro-growth, I share the general enthusiasm for seeing our community attract new opportunities for housing, entertainment, and recreation. However, it’s crucial that we address the challenges associated with this growth in a strategic and responsible manner.

I believe that there needs to be more focus and planning at the council level to ensure that new developments align with the overall vision and needs of our community. This includes considering the opportunity costs of various development projects and evaluating their potential impact on our city’s infrastructure, resources, and quality of life.

Furthermore, developers must be held accountable for delivering on their promises. It’s essential that we establish clear expectations and standards for development projects, and that developers are transparent and accountable throughout the process including penalties for failing to deliver. This will help ensure that new developments meet the needs of our community and contribute positively to our overall growth and prosperity.

By promoting responsible growth and holding developers accountable, we can ensure that Kennesaw continues to thrive while maintaining its unique character and quality of life for all residents.

Describe your previous involvement in the city via volunteering, elected office, etc.

My principal involvement with the city has been in being one of its most enthusiastic citizens. I’ve cherished moments walking around the annual Big Shanty and Pigs and Peaches festivals, delighted in taking my kids to the annual “Touch a Truck” events, enjoyed meals in downtown, running in the Kennesaw Grand Prix 5K series, and connecting with friends and neighbors along the way.

Moreover, I’ve had the privilege of serving as a chaplain to the Kennesaw Police Department’s officers and support staff since 2018. This role has provided me with firsthand insight into the challenges and opportunities that our community faces. Serving as a chaplain in Kennesaw has been incredibly rewarding and is truly the honor of a lifetime for me. It has deepened my understanding of the fabric of our community and strengthened my commitment to serving it in any way I can.

Is there anything you would like to change in the zoning codes and, if so, why?

Absolutely! Our current zoning codes have become convoluted due to incremental revisions over time, resulting in a lack of clarity and consistency. It’s evident that the zoning process is often cumbersome on the front end, causing frustration for individuals looking to open a new business or make improvements to their property. Additionally, there appears to be a lack of accountability on the back end, especially when it comes to holding developers accountable for adhering to zoning regulations.

Those who have experienced the complexities of navigating our zoning codes, whether it’s opening a new business, adding a deck to their home, or dealing with the Historic Preservation Commission, understand the challenges firsthand.

We urgently need common-sense solutions that provide clarity and consistency in our zoning regulations. By implementing clear and consistently applied standards, we can streamline the process, reduce unnecessary hurdles, and ultimately benefit our entire community. It’s essential that our zoning codes support responsible growth and development while also preserving the character and integrity of our neighborhoods.

If you had a $1 million grant for the city, how would you use it?

I would support the idea of providing targeted grants to entrepreneurs and artists to stimulate the development of new business offerings and artistic installations in sectors that are currently underrepresented in our community. This initiative has the potential to not only diversify our local economy but also enhance the cultural vibrancy and aesthetic appeal of our city.

By offering grants to entrepreneurs in sectors such as hotels and gyms, we can encourage innovation and investment in areas that may have been overlooked in the past. This will not only provide new opportunities for residents and visitors but also contribute to the overall economic growth and vitality of our community.

Furthermore, providing local artists with the resources to create permanent artistic installations will not only enrich our city’s cultural landscape but also serve as a point of interest for residents and visitors alike. These installations have the power to transform public spaces, foster community pride, and attract tourism, ultimately contributing to the overall beautification and livability of our city.

Overall, I believe that investing in entrepreneurship and the arts is a worthwhile endeavor that will yield long-term benefits for our community. By supporting creative endeavors and fostering innovation, we can ensure that Kennesaw remains a vibrant and dynamic place to live, work, and visit.

Anthony Gutierrez

Age: 26 

How long have you lived in Kennesaw: 2020 

Education/Job: B.S. in Political Science from Kennesaw State University 


Two of your campaign priorities are more transparency in government and stopping luxury apartments. How do you plan to achieve those goals? 

The status quo is not working. Time and time again we see developers promise a mixed-use development with retail space, get it approved by council, and then deliver only expensive apartments. It’s a successful strategy that goes unchecked and unchallenged. There are no consequences when promises aren’t kept, and that cannot continue to happen. I’m working to be your voice in the Kennesaw City Council to bring that change. There needs to be transparency at every step of the process. 

We need to put the infrastructure first, then the developments, not the other way around. We need a middle ground of dense housing and ownability, projects like: multi-family homes, condos, or townhomes. Kennesaw needs to prioritize quality-constructed homes that people can own, raise a family in, and then pass down to their children. 

We could talk about how we pick and choose what ordinances are applied to businesses and how we created a system where some are given special treatment while others have told me they feel almost attacked. If we have an ordinance we either apply it to everyone, or apply it to no one, we don’t get to pick and choose. Cultivating a fair and transparent reputation will make Kennesaw a more attractive place to start a new business. 

What do you view as Kennesaw’s greatest strengths? 

As a growing community, it’s important that our residents have free/affordable facilities and events to spend their time, meet their neighbors, and feel a true sense of community. From parks like Swift Cantrell and Adams, to our newest Parks & Recreation community center that offers classes and sport leagues, its programs like these I love seeing in the city I call home. Always being able to look forward to events like Pigs and Peaches or The Big Shanty Festival, being able to shop from local artists/vendors, and try delicious new foods is always a highlight for a lot of us here. Continuing on these programs and expanding them with new opportunities and a wider array of choices is an important goal of mine as it’s one of the most important duties of a local government, and one our city takes pride in. 

What is(are) your biggest concern(s) regarding the city? 

Kennesaw city residents really want to spend their dollars locally and they’re having a hard time doing it. The problem with rubber stamping developments is that no one is thinking about the quality of life for these new residents. I’ve had countless conversations with voters about how all this housing is being built, but when people move in they have to drive to neighboring cities if they want to eat somewhere more unique or do a fun activity. 

We need to invest in third spaces. In short, “spaces” are where we spend our time: our home is our first space where we spend the most time, our second space is work, and third spaces are everywhere else. Think a park, a lounge, a café, etc. No matter who I speak to regardless of age, political beliefs, ethnic background, they all say the same thing, there’s not much to actually do in Kennesaw. We have enough self storage facilities and car washes, we need to diversify what Kennesaw has to offer. 

One way to encourage more third spaces is by implementing a small tax break for the first year or two until the business is running comfortably. That boost could be the difference between a business closing and the next town gem. 

Describe your previous involvement in the city via volunteering, elected office, etc. 

Everyone from the mayor, the council, voters, and residents, know that I’m a familiar face at both council and commission meetings. I’ve run before and am running again because when you believe in something you don’t give up. 

I’ve been going door-to-door and reaching out to thousands of residents via every outlet I can. It’s important to me that I hear concerns from everyday people so that I can be their voice on the council. 

Working alongside our neighbors, local advocates, groups, and business owners, I dedicate my time to make sure our local government knows what’s troubling our residents and what could be done to fix these issues. For a time I served as a member of the Cemetery Preservation

Committee here in the city, and I also like to volunteer when I can from local clean ups to hosting fundraisers. 

Is there anything you would like to change in the zoning ordinances and, if so, why? 

The next time you go to a heavy commercial area such as Town Center Mall or Barrett Parkway, take a good look at the parking lot. Even on the busiest of days, see just how much empty space there is from land dedicated to parking spots and the potential we lose because of how our current laws are written. 

In Norman, Oklahoma, they changed a single word in the minimum parking mandate: “required” became “recommended.” This allowed the free market to decide the amount of parking space required instead of being confined to outdated ordinances. 

It only took a few months for the positive effects to be noticed by business owners, citizens, lenders, and developers. Now, with no minimum requirement these empty spaces could be converted to more businesses, housing, and even green space. Cities across the nation have been experimenting with this and have seen overwhelmingly positive results from increased revenue to less traffic because more citizens are able to get to businesses they need without the use of a vehicle. 

Kennesaw should change our zoning codes to match the work cities like these have done and create better opportunities for business, local job creation, and doing away with all that empty unused blacktop. 

If you had a $1 million grant for the city, how would you use it? 

First, I would build more sidewalks and bike lanes in our neighborhoods and roadways, not just some spray paint on the road, but actual human-focused infrastructure. As I’ve been speaking to voters, lack of sidewalks and bike lanes is a major concern, especially for those with young children. Without sidewalks, a recreational jog or a walk from home to anywhere has the added danger of competing with vehicles on the road for space. Protected sidewalks look more attractive, add to property values, and protect our citizens. Whether it’s our kids walking to the bus stop before school or getting something from the store really quick on your bike. 

There’s a 850 unit complex and future LIDL coming to Cherokee and McCollum, that’s going to add another 1,000 vehicles of traffic. Both of those streets are unlit and lack frequent crosswalks which will lead to deadly accidents involving pedestrians. We need to invest in infrastructure to guarantee that these new residents will be able to walk safely to the new grocery store and the rest of the city.

After that, I would equip all government facilities and streetlights with solar energy capabilities to reduce the costs of running them and reduce our city expenditures. With enough solar energy harnessed not only could we potentially eliminate an entire bill, but we could even profit by selling back the excess to energy providers.

Beatrice Shakal


Job: Policy Planning Coordinator at the Georgia Department of Transportation Education: 

MPA, University of Georgia 

JM (Juris Master), Liberty University School of Law 

BA, University of Maryland 

High School: Creekview High School (Canton, GA) 


You list one of your campaign priorities as downtown development, infrastructure, and public services. How will you help guide the city in improving these areas? 

See #3. 

What do you view as Kennesaw’s greatest strengths? 

Kennesaw has a rich history but it also has a mix of modern with its diverse population. My family is a great example of that as a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines and Singapore and my husband being of Japanese and Czech descent, and our son being a combination of all of those heritages, we are the modern mix of what the city looks like. When my husband and I were looking at where to raise our family, I immediately knew Kennesaw was going to be home because I love the accessibility of a major interstate and it is a touchstone middle point between Cobb, Cherokee, Bartow, and Paulding counties. We have the history of the Great Locomotive Race and the Natural Park beauty of Kennesaw Mountain. We are blessed to live in this great city and that’s why I am running because I want to honor and contribute to the city me and my family call home. 

What is(are) your biggest concern(s) regarding the city? 

Downtown Kennesaw needs a modern revitalization. Compared to our neighboring sister cities, downtown Kennesaw does not have the same spirit of growth and life and we need to change that! Our downtown has so much missed revenue that comes from being a college town and a town with young and growing families like mine. There are plenty of things that need to be updated in order for downtown to thrive. I’d like to see our citizens taking advantage of Main Street more and see new business development for more local jobs. 

Additionally, as many developments of new apartments and townhomes closer to downtown Kennesaw, we need to plan for the infrastructure of the roads that come with more citizens living in highly dense areas. We need to account for traffic and safety issues. 

Describe your previous involvement in the city via volunteering, elected office, etc. 

Service has always been in my blood and a calling for me, especially for the youth as a first-generation American, I never quite had someone who looked like me or did whatever it was I sought to do, before me. I am carving that path and feel it is a calling that I must lead the next generation of leaders. That’s why I speak to my countless youth and school groups about what working in public service is like. I also mentor and lead talks in a club I started for middle school and high school girls to teach them that one can be a faithful and working woman in the world through the Horizon Girls Club. I’ve also founded the Atlanta chapter of the Young Catholic Professionals and am also on the board of the University of Maryland Alumni Association Atlanta Chapter, where I coordinate service projects and community events for my fellow Atlanta Terps. Service doesn’t truly ever stop as much as possible, I also volunteer through the MUST ministries in their food pantry, Christmas shop, kitchen, and donation center. This all connects me to the community and brings me joy. I’ve always had the drive to serve ever since I was young and I don’t ever intend to stop. 

Is there anything you would like to change in the zoning codes and, if so, why? 

Kennesaw is an interesting mix of single-family homes and apartment developments, largely due to it being a college town. In current times, we have seen massive developments of large-scale apartment buildings and the same developments of car washes and storage unit places. While I am not against any sort of business growth, we need to encourage more local and diverse business options such as mom-and-pop restaurant options and local small-town boutiques and have local support for these businesses to stay open. Proper planning is important before any additional zoning approvals for more of the same. We must look at how the city will make plans for and accommodate any future developments before approving. 

If you had a $1 million grant for the city, how would you use it? 

It’s great you ask that question because the City Council is about to bear the responsibility of $10 million through SPLOST grant money coming in. Whoever is elected, will have to coordinate with their fellow City Council members on where the funds will best go. As for me, my priority is the planning and development of the city’s infrastructure. Kennesaw is a busy city and as new developments continue to happen, we need to plan for how we are going to tackle the problem of traffic, an issue already apparent to many of the Kennesaw residents I speak to. We are building but we are not preparing our roads for the influx in traffic from the incoming population that is coming as a result. That $10 million would go towards current road improvements and traffic intersections and as-needed expansions that will flow traffic efficiently.

Sara Torres

Age: 36

How long have you lived in Kennesaw: 9 Years

Education/Job: Creative Director/Business Owner


Your campaign priorities include responsible growth and economic development. Can you elaborate on what that means and how you plan to achieve those goals?

To achieve these goals, I envision creating a synergy between new residents, businesses, and our existing community. This entails not only welcoming newcomers but also actively engaging them in our local retail scene and community activities. My plan involves implementing strategies to promote interaction and collaboration between residents and businesses. This includes supporting local businesses through incentives or promotional campaigns and facilitating networking opportunities with the community.

What do you view as Kennesaw’s greatest strengths?

For me, Kennesaw isn’t just a city; it’s a vibrant community filled with strengths that resonate deeply with my values. One of the reasons I love calling Kennesaw home is our unwavering commitment to safety and cleanliness. This dedication creates a sense of security and warmth that I cherish as a resident, knowing that my family and neighbors are well cared for.

Witnessing the continuous rise in property values is not just a sign of economic growth, but also a testament to the strong sense of community and pride that defines Kennesaw. It’s inspiring to see residents and investors alike place their confidence in our city’s future, reinforcing its status as a sought-after residential destination.

I’m excited about projects like Depot Park and the amphitheater, which are transforming our city into a dynamic hub of entertainment and culture. These initiatives demonstrate our proactive approach to community development, reflecting our commitment to continually improve and meet the evolving needs of our residents. As someone deeply connected to this community, I’m proud to be a part of Kennesaw’s journey towards greater vibrancy and inclusivity.

What is(are) your biggest concern(s) regarding the city?

My primary concern regarding the city revolves around the challenges new businesses encounter during the opening process. The lengthy timelines and hurdles they face can be discouraging and costly. As a council member, I aim to address this issue by thoroughly examining the existing processes and identifying opportunities to streamline and expedite them. By providing more efficient support and resources, we can help new businesses navigate the process more effectively and reduce the time and resources required to open their doors. Additionally, I am committed to implementing measures to support both new and existing businesses in our community, offering tailored assistance and incentives to encourage growth and success. We can foster a thriving economic environment where businesses can flourish, ultimately contributing to the overall prosperity and vitality of the City of Kennesaw.

Describe your previous involvement in the city via volunteering, elected office, etc.

Though I’ve never held public office in our city, I am at a point in my life where I can dedicate myself fully to serving our community. After years of calling this place home, I’ve developed a deep-seated passion for its well-being and growth. Now, I’m eager to translate that passion into action by bringing fresh perspectives and a collaborative spirit to the city council. I see this as an opportunity to contribute directly to shaping a better future for all of us, drawing on my experiences and connections within our community to make a meaningful impact.

Is there anything you would like to change in the zoning codes and, if so, why?

One area for improvement with this could be addressing the process of rezoning. Simplifying this process transcends mere administrative efficiency; it represents a strategic initiative aimed at promoting enduring development and community rejuvenation. By making it easier to rezone older buildings and homes lacking historical significance, we can expedite their sale and renovation, breathing new life into our neighborhoods and stimulating growth. This initiative would create opportunities for the transformation of underutilized spaces, ultimately contributing to the vibrancy and sustainability of our community.

If you had a $1 million grant for the city, how would you use it?

I would prioritize enhancing pedestrian safety and accessibility, investing in infrastructure upgrades that directly benefit residents. A substantial portion of the funds would be dedicated to upgrading crosswalks and sidewalks, ensuring safer walking environments throughout our community. Additionally, I would implement traffic-calming measures such as tree-lined streets to address the issue of cut-through traffic effectively.

Strategically allocating some of the resources to improve pedestrian infrastructure and create safer streets would help address infrastructure deficiencies in underserved areas, ensuring that all neighborhoods have well-maintained roads and walkways. These investments not only prioritize safety but also contribute to the overall well-being and inclusivity of our community, ensuring that every resident can enjoy safer and more accessible public spaces.

A meet and greet with the candidates is scheduled for April 17, 6 p.m. at Lazy Guy Distillery, 2950 Moon Station Rd.

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.