By Abi Cole
Woodfin – Woodfin Mayor Jerry VeHaun’s 47-year tenure as a Buncombe County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Director has given him a unique insight into the national pandemic. His retirement from that position in December of last year came a mere month before the first COVID-19 case was identified in the US. Retirement from EMS, which serves a supporting role in the county’s pandemic and emergency services response as well as in disaster relief, doesn’t mean that VeHaun has slowed down. He’s just spending more time at the town hall.
“I was raised in Woodfin. I knew the people out here, I knew the community,” says VeHaun. VeHaun’s residence in Woodfin stretches back before it became a chartered town in 1971. Back then, the North Asheville community was, “On the cusp of a lot of development,” reflects VeHaun. The hustle and bustle of Asheville was inching out of city limits and into neighboring communities which prompted residents of the Woodfin area to incorporate.
In the early 2000s, VeHaun was unsatisfied with the mayoral leadership and decided to run for mayor. He was serving as Emergency Services Director and been involved in Buncombe County government for over 32 years. “I decided well, I’ve had all of this government experience, so why not try one more?”
The Woodfin native won the mayoral race and has served as the Mayor of Woodfin since 2003. A pillar of VeHaun’s administration has been the development of Woodfin. “I thought well, maybe I’ll just see if I can improve the condition and look of the town, maybe help with the development of the town and so forth.”
The enterprise and resident landscape has exploded in the last 17 years. The resident population has seen the largest increase ever from 2000 to 2010, when it nearly doubled. Over 500 businesses have planted roots in the community. Development including Reynold’s Village has brought housing and businesses to this northern corner of Asheville. “We want to be business-friendly to where people, if you have a business, want to come to Woodfin where you don’t get bogged down with bureaucracy like you do in some places.” Once a commuter community of Asheville, VeHaun is proud that the town has transitioned to a small town by enticing employers.
In 2005, Woodfin became the first municipality in the state to adopt an ordinance banning registered sex offenders from public parks. The ACLU challenged Woodfin’s decision in a 2008 court case, claiming that such ordinances are too broad and punish individuals who are no longer a threat to children. In a landmark decision, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the town’s right to bar sex offenders from designated public spaces. “A lot of communities across the state and even some other states requested copies of our ordinance so they could look at enacting something like that in their jurisdiction,” says VeHaun.
Since the pandemic has halted face-to-face meetings with constituents, “It’s been a challenge… where our town hall has been closed now,” says VeHaun. “But the staff is still in here working to make sure that stuff doesn’t fall through the cracks.”