Kannapolis Council in for big change

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 1, 2013

KANNAPOLIS — The youngest is 33, the oldest 63. Occupations range from board clerk to store owner to plumbing designer. They are male, female, black, white.

But the candidates vying for three seats on Kannapolis City Council have this in common: They want to see their economy grow.

Who doesn’t? But the Kannapolis City Council may face the greatest challenge of any local municipality — leading a city that’s in the midst of total transformation. The mill is gone. The N.C. Research Campus has started taking shape. But the village has not found its new stride yet.

Eight people have jumped at the opportunity to do something about that, and they could usher in a new day for the city. No incumbents are seeking re-election to the three seats up for election this year, and two council members are running for mayor. Big change is coming to this seven-member council.

Some are calling for fresh new faces, while others say what the city needs in its council members is experience.

Here are the candidates:

• Dianne Berry, clerk to the Cabarrus County Board of Health.

• Nina Covington, a customer service rep for New Concepts International.

• William Cranford, director of development for Shoe Show.

• Jeremy Ford, plumbing designer for Shultz Engineering.

• Darrell Jackson, owner of Lee Clothing Warehouse in Kannapolis and Dan’elle Clothing Warehouse in Concord.

• Amos McClorey, a Marine veteran now retired from Philip Morris.

• Thomas VanEtten, factory manager with Mueller Systems.

• Doug Wilson, general manager for Publicom.

Berry, 59, has been on both the minutes-keeping side and the decision-making side of several advisory boards, and she sees some risk for the city in all this newness.

“An inexperienced mayor leading a majority new City Council is not what this city needs at this time,” she says. She hopes voters consider candidates’ qualifications and experience when casting their ballots.

Her top goal if elected is to be the best council member possible by being available and open to listen to and act upon citizens’ concerns — to be a voice for the city’s citizens.

“It is my commitment that I never want to tell a person who comes to me with a problem or concern ‘No,’” she says.

To bring more business downtown, Berry says the council should continue to support Downtown Kannapolis Inc. and the Business Alliance. Everyone wants to see the bustling downtown of old, she says; the city has yet to find the catalyst to make that happen. But it would be a mistake to focus only on the village area, she says.

“Every citizen, every business owner within our entire city limits has a voice and representation, and the support of City Council,” she says.

Asked about Cabarrus commissioners’ recent thumbs down on incentives for expansion of Windshear, Berry said there could be a trickle-down effect to neighboring cities if the county stops incentives.

“Industries create jobs. Those jobs will spur our economy, in the long run, far more than the monies lost by the incentives,” she says.

Covington, 63, worked for the Baltimore city finance department for 34 years before moving to Kannapolis and says that experience can help her give back to the community and make a difference.

The issues in this election, she says, are economic development, the lack of communication and understanding between government and communities, and the lack of direction for the city’s youth.

“If elected, my No. 1 goal would be to bring jobs to Kannapolis,” Covington says. “I would send recruiters to major companies in major cities to sell Kannapolis as a city in which to build their next company.”

She favors using incentives to help small businesses already established in the community to enlarge and locate downtown. She said the city should revisit the incentive program.

Cranford, 37, is running to improve the community and make sure tax dollars are being spent wisely, he says. To him, the race is about jobs and who is going to bring them to Kannapolis.

“I would start by making sure our existing businesses have the tools and resources they need not only to survive but thrive and be successful,” he says. Then the city needs to bring in new businesses.

“The key to economic recovery is jobs that allow our citizens to make a living wage and have disposable income to reinvest in shops and restaurants…”

As for economic incentives, he favors “a reward-type system” in which the city would base incentives on the number of jobs created over a set number of years.

Ford, soon to turn 37, says his interest in city government grew as he chaired the Environmental Stewardship Commission, and running for council has been his goal for some time.

The issues in the race, he says, are public safety, downtown revitalization and progress.

He sees good things in the changing of the guard Kannapolis might face after this election.

“City Council has been, in the past, subject to the effects of paralysis by analysis,” Ford says, criticizing complacency with the status quo.

“We need to remove government inertia …,” he says. Changing members of the council once in a generation would break up some “antiquated alliances” that are no longer needed, according to Ford.

City Council needs to work with local property owners and small businesses to promote growth in the city’s core, he says.

“This can be achieved by easing current restrictions as well as promoting the possibility of creative incentives to qualified applicants,” Ford says. The downtown has become a pedestrian-friendly place to live, work and play, he says, but the area also needs stores and restaurants to attract both residents and outside traffic.

Ford sees some wisdom in commissioners’ stance on incentives. Large incentives are not a sustainable way of doing business over time because, once they’ve expired, the business may move on to another location with another incentive. But he stops short of calling for the end of incentives. “Structured agreements with incentives that are extended as job growth goals are achieved benefit both the city and the taxpayer over old models.”

Jackson, 60, speaks of downtown challenges with firsthand knowledge. He owns Lee Clothing Warehouse, has been involved with Downtown Kannapolis Inc. and says the city needs local business leaders in city government.

“Because the city of Kannapolis is, in a lot of ways, just like a multi-million-dollar corporation, we need knowledgeable people with business backgrounds that understand revenue streams, balance budgets and the need for long-term planning,” he says.

Economic development and the recruitment of new businesses are the top issues in this race, he says.

And his top goal would be to fill a gap he’s noticed.

“The people of Kannapolis I’ve met at community meetings feel disconnected from what their city is doing,” Jackson says. He wants to change that by having elected officials and staff reach out to get to know citizens’ needs and challenges and be responsive.

He has ideas about how to boost downtown. Bring back the visitor’s center, he says, and promote things like the N.C. Music Hall of Fame, the Dale Earnhardt tribute, Curb Motorsports and Music Museum. That would bring more traffic downtown, help the restaurants and retailers already there and encourage new ones, he says.

Incentives, he says, should be selective, considering proposals case by case regarding cost and longterm payback.

McClorey, 63, mentions several goals he would pursue if elected ­— more jobs and plenty of them, new businesses downtown and more business-friendly opportunities for new companies large and small.

If he had to set anything as a top priority, it would be working together with the six other members of the council to move the city forward, he says. Improving the quality of life in the city is also atop his agenda, he says.

“Council should do everything within its power to bring more business, advertise this city as a Kannapolis first city, promote awareness to both businesses and consumers about keeping dollars in Kannapolis and market this city (as) low-crime,” McClorey says.

McClorey refrains from taking a stance on commissioners’ decisions regarding incentives. “Kannapolis can and should always weigh this option when it presents itself,” he says.

VanEtten, 33, says he and his wife are like many of their neighbors. “We are raising our family and are concerned about the city where we live,” he says. And that’s why he’s running, with particular interest in their children’s education, local taxes, parks and jobs.

“The issues that plague Kannapolis are lack of good paying jobs, public safety, the need to increase tourism … and the lack of communication with the City Council,” he says.

Kannapolis needs to begin converting from a bedroom community into one in which people live and work, VanEtten says.

“My No. 1 goal in Kannapolis would be to repair the lack of jobs,” he says.

“… We need to attract more manufacturing and warehouse jobs. We have a commission to improve downtown, but where is the commission to improve the local economy or create local jobs?”

To boost the downtown, he suggests City Council meet with businesses and let them know what the city has to offer. It’s more than location, VanEtten says. The city also has a skilled workforce, great activities, community involvement and potential.

He says the city is missing an opportunity to bring more people downtown if the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College Cosmetology program moves, as expected, from Cloverleaf Plaza to Concord instead of Kannapolis.

VanEtten is not in favor of incentives to companies because as the incentives run out the jobs tend to dry up. “I am not willing to reach into everyone’s pockets for a ‘temporary’ fix.”

Wilson, 63, says the change the council is about to undergo is a critical issue.

“It’s going to be important that, when the smoke clears, whoever is mayor and whoever is on council work really hard together … for the sake of the people. We’re going to have to become a team real quick.”

He doesn’t have a “hot, burning platform,” he says, and he wants to get on the council and see what’s really going on before setting an agenda. But he sees needs.

“We’ve got to get some business in this area … put people to work so they’ve got money to take downtown,” Wilson says.

The city has strengths it should promote more, such as good schools and parks and recreation programs, he says. Wilson was a member of the city’s first Parks and Recreation Commission from 1988 to 2001, serving as chair from 1995 to 2001. He’s all about quality of life, he says, and is proud to have helped hire director Gary Mills and get the program off to a good start.

“The best asset the town has is its people,” Wilson says. “The people here have an incredible amount of perseverance and determination. … I believe in these people.”

He’s puzzled by Cabarrus commissioners’ recent vote on incentives. “Anything that comes in here that’s a positive is only going to bring more things with it,” he says.

Kannapolis’ challenges are different from those faced by Concord and Salisbury because it’s not a county seat, he says; the city doesn’t have as many of the lawyers and other professionals that county-seat institutions draw. But Kannapolis has the Research Campus, and Wilson believes having a good relationship with “the kingdom,” as he calls it, could help the city have its best days yet.

“If we don’t believe that, why even try?”