"My husband calls me Your Excellency."
by Jess McCuan . photo by Matt Rose
During her mayoral campaign last fall, Barbara Volk, a longtime Hendersonville City Councilwoman, promised that if she were elected, she would shake things up a bit. “It will be gentle shaking,” she said in early January, a few weeks after she was sworn in as the city’s first female mayor. “Gentle shaking” seems to sum things up well. Yes, she’ll be switching up a few priorities—putting more emphasis on environmental projects, for example, and on e-government, offering more information and services through the city’s website. But Volk, who has lived in Hendersonville since 1975 and served on City Council since 1989, isn’t likely to ruffle too many feathers. Though she’ll be overseeing a “facelift” for downtown, she’s interested in preserving the quaint look and feel of Hendersonville, which has a population of around 13,000 and is best known for its fall apple festival and historic buildings. “One of the things people like about downtown [Hendersonville] is that it is so historic. It looks like Mayberry,” she says. “We’re not doing anything to change the character.”
Volk, who has degrees in math and medical records management, worked as a part-time bookkeeper at her husband’s Hendersonville pediatric clinic for close to 20 years. She’s an expert in parliamentary procedure, which means neighborhood associations and other groups occasionally hire her to help them run meetings more efficiently. She plans to give the same treatment to city council members. At a council retreat in February, one of the goals will be to improve communication before, after and during meetings. “I don’t anticipate everything is going to pass 5-0,” Volk says. “I just want to be very open with council members and be sure they can be open with me.” About a year and a half ago, the city passed a comprehensive 20-year plan, but now the hard work of implementing that plan begins in earnest. Volk wants to take a step back and make sure council decisions square with the comprehensive plan. “[We should consider] a little more of the philosophical,” she says. “Not just—this is the policy, let’s vote it up or down. But why are we doing this? It should all fit in the big picture of things.”
Development, a hot topic in any city, is especially divisive in Hendersonville. A few years ago, a planned downtown residential project threatened the city’s building-height limit of 64 feet (no higher than the lower dome of the historic Main Street courthouse). City council approved a height extension for the development, an eight-story condo complex called the Sunflower/Carolina Grand, but Hendersonvilleans raised such a ruckus that state politicians stepped in, and the extension was overturned in a citywide vote.
Now, the problem is not too-tall buildings but the fact that most developers have run out of cash. “People still have the misperception that we’re turning away all development downtown. We turned down one development, but there were six others that were approved,” Volk says, noting that many of the projects that were approved were never built. “I would have loved to have seen them come.”
So far, she’s enjoying her mayoralty. People aren’t exactly sure how to greet her in the hallways—Mrs. Mayor? Your Honor? The Mayoress? “My husband calls me Your Excellency,” she jokes. Everyone else has the next four years to figure it out.