Election 2021: Kannapolis City Council candidates discuss downtown revitalization, goals for other parts of city

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 19, 2021

KANNAPOLIS — There are 10 candidates running for three seats in a crowded Kannapolis City Council race.

Incumbents Dianne Berry, Doug Wilson and Van Rowell are each seeking reelection. Berry and Wilson are aiming for a third term while Rowell is hoping for a second stint in office. 

Berry, 67, recently retired after 23 years in human resources at the Cabarrus Health Alliance, but is now working as a Medicare agent. Among Berry’s top priorities are gauging needs outside of downtown and implementing a city litter cleanup service.

Wilson, 71, is the owner of a medical sales business and chief operating officer of a health screening company. Wilson said Kannapolis needs to address limits on sewer and water capacity that could hamper development and support the local school systems

Rowell, 74, is a retired civil engineer who also spent several years in the Army. Project-minded, Rowell said he would like to prioritize future development in Kannapolis to ensure the city’s resources are used appropriately.

The three incumbents are defending their seats from seven challengers. The field was even more competitive, but Phil Goodman said he is no longer running.

Both Jeanne Dixon, 73, and Jayne Williams, 59, are hoping to make history in the race. Dixon and Williams would be the first African American women to hold a seat on the council. Ken Geathers is the only African American to have served on the council, which was created in 1984.

Dixon is retired after a 30-year career with the Cabarrus County Department of Social Services. In addition to her professional career, Dixon has served on the board of Rowan Cabarrus Community College and has planning and zoning experience with Kannapolis. Dixon is passionate about providing incentives to police officers to increase retention rates.

Williams, who moved to her mother’s hometown of Kannapolis over 20 years ago from New Jersey, is retired after a career as a hospice nursing assistant. Williams said she now volunteers for several organizations, including Meals on Wheels and the Boys and Girls Club. One of her top goals if elected would be to support the local school systems.

Jordan Connell, 31, is one of the youngest running for city council. He is a pastor at Village Chapel and was the public address announcer for the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers during the team’s inaugural season. Connell said he would like to make Kannapolis a place where young families would like to live.

James Litaker, a longtime chiropractor in Kannapolis, is running for city council after spending more than a decade on the city’s planning and zoning commission. Litaker, 67, said he would like to implement stronger incentives for police officers, firefighters and teachers to increase retention.

Downtown Kannapolis has been in the midst of a major revitalization effort orchestrated through a public-private partnership. All three incumbents in the city council said they would like another term to finish the downtown economic revitalization they helped start. 

Wilson said the question he was asked when he was first elected in 2013 was “What are you going to do with downtown?”

That question is now answered by the completion of the ballpark and with formerly vacant storefronts on West Avenue filled with businesses. Wilson, a recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award, said he would now like to focus on bringing more parking to the area while looking at other areas of the city to revitalize.

Rowell said he would like to move forward with strategic downtown development while ensuring that the historical character of the area isn’t compromised.

Berry is also keen on preserving the downtown’s past and said she would like to protect open and green spaces in the heart of the city. The council, she said, should “not be in such a hurry” with downtown development moving forward.

Dixon commended the city’s downtown transformation, but said she would like to focus on also revitalizing some of the neighborhoods to make them “safe and healthy” places to live. Like Dixon, Connell said he would like to spur revitalization elsewhere in the city limits by using the blueprint that was successful downtown. 

Litaker said he would like to advocate for affordable housing in the downtown area so that new residents aren’t priced out of places to live. Litaker’s goal of catalyzing affordable apartments and townhomes downtown is shared by Williams, who said the downtown area is like a candy shop where lower income residents can look, but not buy. Williams also said she’d like to bring a Boys and Girls Club to downtown so the youth can enjoy the downtown’s second life.

Mayor Darrell Hinnant is poised to continue to oversee Kannapolis’ continued development as he runs unopposed. City Councilman Ryan Dayvault, who has two years left on his current term, was prepared to challenge Mayor Darrel Hinnant for his seat. However, Dayvault dropped out of the race before filing in June.

Although Kannapolis is split between Rowan County and Cabarrus, residents who live in the city limits will vote for all candidates no matter the county where the candidate lives.

The Salisbury Post could not reach candidates Patrick Hartsell, Chris Gordon or Milton Smith for inclusion in this story.