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City honors Caraker, Stephens for their service

The Hendersonville City Council honored outgoing members Ron Stephens and Steve Caraker on Thursday. The Hendersonville City Council honored outgoing members Ron Stephens and Steve Caraker on Thursday.

The Hendersonville City Council on Thursday honored Ron Stephens and Steve Caraker for their 12 years of council service, praising them for their leadership in quality development and historic preservation and their support of landmark achievements like the renovation of the Grey Hosiery Mill and the five-party agreement to build the Health Sciences Facility on the Pardee Hospital campus.

Caraker, who began his service to the city as a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, served three terms on the council but failed to win a fourth term in the Nov. 5 election. Stephens, who served for the past eight years and four years before that and twice ran unsuccessfully for mayor, started out serving two terms on the city Planning Board.

Ken Fitch, a faithful attendee at most public meetings and regular commenter on civic affairs, added to the council's proclamation with stories of each man's contributions. During the debate over the future of Hendersonville High School, he recalled, Stephens stood up at a public meeting to urge the School Board to save the historic Stillwell building as part of an expanded high school campus.

“It was a riveting moment because though he was speaking for himself he was also speaking for those in the city who elected him to represent their interest," Fitch said. "He was part of the wider community effort to bring about the design that preserves history and tradition in an institution that will now serve future generations for many years to come."

Caraker had shown over and over his expertise in development, historic preservation and water and sewer issues but showed his humanity when a Boy Scout working on an Eagle project described the birdhouses he planned to erect at Patton Park. Caraker volunteered to supply the wood and his home workshop.

"He had the supplies and tools and would provide the supervision," Fitch recalled. "It was a stunning moment that the young man and many of us will never forget."

“As these two servants set out on the open road toward their future we salute them for their important contributions to our city,” he said.

The city presented rocking chairs to both retiring council members.

“I am so proud of what we been able to do for this community,” Caraker said. “I love this place, I love all of you people and I’m so proud of what we have been able to do as a group the last 12 years,” Caraker said. A council made up of diverse opinions has debated and sometimes disagree while ultimately reaching a positive work product, he said.

Turning to newly elected council members Jennifer Hensley and Lyndsey Simpson, he said, “This should be about Hendersonville and not about political opinions or anything else.”

Serving on the council has been “one of the best and most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life,” he said.“I’m sad to leave but I also relieved I don’t have to go through the second round of traffic negotiations (for NCDOT projects). I’m so glad I had the opportunity to do this. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Like Caraker, Stephens thanked his fellow council members for working together.

“The effort of the City Council is one of the high points of it for me," he said. "It is a team effort. We’ve all participated in team sports and you do have problems and discussion and sort of battles, but this council, when it’s all said and done and the votes are taken, whatever the decision is, you shake hands and move on to the next item."

To Hensley and Simpson, he said, "You’re coming into a great group.”

The two proclamations singled out Caraker for his commitment to historic preservation and tireless support for Seventh Avenue revitalization and his advocacy for city employee benefits and praised Stephens for his "active involvement" in preserving the Stillwell building and for giving voice to business concerns when development regulations appeared to be burdensome. 

Both council members during their tenure supported a broad water-sewer rate structure to finance longterm public utility improvements, the sale and redevelopment of the Grey Hosiery Mill, building Fire Station 2, the purchase of property for a new police station, Fire Station 3, downtown restrooms, parking deck and hotel, Oklawaha Greenway expansion and the city's sponsorship of downtown events such as Rhythm & Brews.