Woodfin to choose a new mayor for the first time in two decades
For the first time in more than 20 years, Jerry VeHaun will not be on the ballot in Woodfin.
“I thought, well, 20 years is enough. So I'll let somebody else lead it for a while,” he told BPR.
VeHaun, 80, a retired Buncombe government employee, served as mayor of the small but growing township since 2003.
He was born and raised in Woodfin, and technically, his legacy predates the small township which did not incorporate until 1971.
“People in Woodfin didn't particularly want to be part of Asheville and they still don't,” he said. “But in 1971 Asheville was going to annex a large portion of woods. They had a proposal up to do that and people didn't want it, so they decided they would incorporate."
Mayor VeHaun is proud of his legacy, which he describes as “controlled growth.”
Under his leadership, the town developed Reynolds Village and the forthcoming Woodfin Greenway Blueway project, which adds new greenways, parks, and a man-made whitewater wave along the French Broad River.
VeHaun’s departure leaves Woodfin residents with two options for the 2023 election: Woodfin Vice Mayor Jim McAllister and retired Marine Corps Major Jason Moore.
BPR spoke with both candidates about their experience and the needs of the growing town.
McAllister, a Democrat and retired sales executive, has lived in Asheville for seven years. He served on the town’s Planning Board and Board of Adjustment and, in 2021, won a seat on Town Council. He is also a member of the Asheville Buncombe Riverfront Commission.
“Woodfin has changed in the last 10 years. Our population is almost doubled and quite frankly, I think the elected leadership of the town has kind of lost touch with what the people want,” he told BPR, when asked why he was running for mayor.
McAllister centered his campaign around a theme of building community, he said.
“People want different things. They want the town cleaned up. They want us to look like other communities," he said. "Woodfin is so spread out, we don't have a downtown, so people don't feel connected and that's one of the things I really want to work on in the next four years.”
McAllister, 68, hopes Woodfin can transform into a place with more retail stores. He told BPR he envisioned a town where residents don't have to go to other municipalities for everyday errands like getting a haircut or buying a bottle of wine.
"We need some of those businesses that every other small town has," he told BPR.
During his time as an elected official, McAllister helped pass a short-term rental ordinance, restricting the number short-term rentals in town. He supported the steep slope ordinance, which limits development on steep lots in favor of more “environmentally sound design.”
McAllister identified other important issues for the town such as cleaning up the French Broad River, upgrading technology used by the Woodfin Police Department, and building more affordable workforce housing.
McAllister said he has a track record of greater transparency in Woodfin government.
“We hired Shannon Tuck from the City of Asheville [as Town Manager]. We brought in brand new legal counsel. We parted our ways with three other law firms. And now we have town meetings where people come and talk to us. We can respond to them right there on the spot and we can assign town staff,” he said.
If elected, McAllister would be Woodfin’s first openly gay mayor. According to the Victory Fund, his election would also make Buncombe County the only county nationwide with two gay mayors. Patrick Fitzimmons, the Weaverville Mayor, is also openly gay.
“We think that's a hoot,” said McAllister. “And we're hoping it'll set a good example, especially in Western North Carolina, which is fairly conservative that you too can be something – you don't have to hide.”
Moore, 43, a Democrat and retired Marine Corps Major, has lived in Woodfin for a year, but his relatively short time in the town didn’t stop him from jumping into local politics.
“I have to admit I have been surprised at the different level with which people have been surprised, interested – some people have even been offended – of the fact that I am running for mayor without, you know, volunteering at the precinct or being on the Town Council,” he told BPR.
Moore said his 20-year background in military service – in which he handled various infrastructure, financial, and logistical projects in places like Afghanistan, Kenya, and Japan – prepared him to lead the residents of Woodfin through its next phase of growth and development.
“The reason I thought it would be a good fit is because I've led organizations of thousands of soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, civilians, contractors in the US and overseas, so leadership positions are not unfamiliar to me,” he said. “In terms of the leadership ability required to be an administrator and executive, that's something I've been doing for my 20 years of government service.”
Moore said he values thoughtful development, the health of the French Broad River and building more affordable housing for working class people in Woodfin.
If elected, he said would prioritize a strong relationship with the Woodfin Police Chief, Michael Dykes.
“I definitely want to make sure that the police chief has everything he needs within my ability to support him to do his job,” he said.
Moore also supports paying Woodin police officers a living wage and helping provide new technology to the department.
Moore said he ran his whole campaign for less than $1,000, which means he doesn’t have a website or signs placed around town.
“I'm just trying to kind of get out there and learn as much about the different issues, talk to the constituents of Woodfin, and then present myself as the best option for mayor in the upcoming election,” he said.
BPR News will provide updated election results for the Woodfin mayoral race and other municipal races on November 7 on-air and at bpr.org.