Councilman recalled as firm, friendly

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
KANNAPOLIS ó City Councilman Richard Anderson, who died Monday, never let political correctness get in the way of looking after his constituents.
Anderson, 73, was blunt, plain spoken and at times abrasive. He never carried a grudge and often found friends among his political opponents.
Anderson was elected to the Kannapolis City Council in 1991 and elected as mayor. He was again elected to the council in 2007 and had one year remaining on his term.
When Anderson died Monday night of complications from lung and liver cancer, the 24-year-old city lost an irreplaceable part of its fabric.
“Kannapolis will miss Richard Anderson. He was a titan that helped create this city,” Councilman Kenneth Geathers said Tuesday.
“He worked tirelessly for every cause,” said Geathers, who has served on the City Council for 20 years. “Richard had a unique perspective, he always looked after the little man. He didn’t want to raise taxes.”
Geathers and others cited Anderson’s attention to detail ó reading and studying everything about any issue. He would push staff for more information and prod the council to look at every side of an issue.
City Manager Mike Legg knew first hand Anderson’s appetite for information. “He read everything I ever typed, word for word … he read the minutes.”
Legg started as a planner for the city when Anderson was mayor in 1995 and saw his commitment to the town.
“He was in tune with his constituency. He knew a lot of people in the city… he knew how long-term residents would react,” Legg said.
“Richard believed in what he was doing. There was never any mystery where Richard stood,” Legg said.
During the past several years, Anderson was most often in the minority on issues and votes.
But that didn’t stop him or slow him down. Legg said once the issue had been argued and voted, everybody was friends again. “That says a lot about Richard.”
Mayor Bob Misenheimer visited Anderson at CMC- NorthEast several times last week.
On Friday, the last visit, Anderson lobbied Misenheimer to look out for the small businessmen. “He was sticking up for the little man to the end,” Misenheimer said Tuesday. He counted Anderson as “an awful good friend.”
Misenheimer hailed Anderson’s dedication to the citizens of Kannapolis and his dedication to his family. “Richard worked tirelessly for his constituents, many of whom he worked with at Cannon Mills during his 40-year-career there.”
Anderson had planned to go to a National League of Cities conference in San Antonio, Texas, last week.
From his hospital bed, he called Legg on his cell phone to check in and get the latest on what was going on.
Anderson and Arnold Chamberlain, former Rowan County commissioner, had several things in common ó politics, baseball and being the target of the county’s infamous Common Sense investigation.
In 1995, commissioners fired longtime County Manager Tim Russell after discovering he had used county funds to hire private investigators to find the writer of anonymous letters critical of county government.
The letters, often signed “Department of Common Sense,” started with the county’s participation in building a baseball stadium in Kannapolis ó Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium on Moose Road.
For years, Anderson was the chief suspect, with private investigators following him to the post office, restaurants, and gab sessions at Centerview Hardware ó a group mistakenly labeled a pro-liquor group.
At one point Russell claimed he had proof that Anderson was Common Sense ó claiming fingerprints taken off of a barbecue plate from a Cabarrus Chamber of Commerce event matched prints on the letters.
A couple of years later, Russell claimed that handwriting analysis proved Chamberlain was in fact Common Sense.
A former FBI handwriting analyst hired by Chamberlain disagreed with the analysis.
Anderson called the Common Sense letter his “fun mail” saying all investigators had to do was ask. “If the fools had come and asked me, I’d have told them I didn’t have a thing to do with these letters.”
Irked at the idea of being followed by private investigators off and on years, Anderson said he was looking at his options.
“We share some unpleasantness,” Chamberlain said Tuesday, referring to the Common Sense episode. “It’s really quite comical. You know Richard did have a lot of common sense.”
“He was the kind of guy you could have a knock-down-drag -out discussion with, the next time you saw him, he was just Richard.”
Chamberlain admitted that both got aggravated a lot in discussions about ownership of Fieldcrest Stadium, but it never stood in the way of their friendship.
“In the world of local politicians and in the world of political correctness, Richard Anderson was a real man … understand I’m emphasizing man,” Chamberlain said. “Now the politically correct crowd will take over.”
Chamberlain compared Anderson to Newton Cohen Sr., who served 16 years on the board of commissioners, leaving his imprint on all phases of the county operations.
“Really, Richard was an abrasive version of Newton Cohen. He’ll be missed. He was a stand-up, straight talking guy.”
Although a registered Democrat, Anderson never let party get in his way. He often worked the precincts for Republicans, including Cohen and Cabarrus County Commissioner Coy Privette.
And when Linda Johnson appeared to be on the verge of losing her seat on the Kannapolis Board of Education, Anderson mounted a phone and personal-contact campaign to assure her victory. Johnson, a Republican, now represents Kannapolis in the State House.