Wake commissioners balk at sustainability report

tgoldsmith@newsobserver.comFebruary 21, 2012 

— Wake County's board of commissioners gave the cold shoulder to a task force report on growth that they commissioned in 2010, saying the results reflected United Nations-style collectivism.

Commissioners failed to adopt the report as a whole and loaded conditions on considering any of its suggestions.

A 65-member sustainability task force took 18 months to produce a detailed report and suggestions on the county's treatment of energy, water and waste. But the board's Republican leadership said the resulting suggestions - such as requiring property owners to meet maintenance standards - reflected international efforts toward collectivism and could interfere with individual property rights.

The criticism reflects national conservative opposition to "sustainability" as an international movement that could deprive individual citizens of their rights.

Commission Chairman Paul Coble, who is campaigning for the Republican nomination for a U.S. House seat, introduced an off-agenda item that said the task force's recommendations should be individually considered to make sure they are constitutional, feasible and affordable.

His motion attached other conditions, including consideration of a new property rights commission for Wake County. Any regulations resulting from the report should meet tests of affordability, he said.

Even Commissioner Joe Bryan, the Republican who led the task force, voted to attach conditions: "There is a lot of anxiety about the word, 'sustainability'," he said.

Democrats fire back

Said Democratic member Erv Portman: "I don't think sustainability is toxic."

During a public comment period, speakers overwhelmingly supported the sustainability report.

"I can say that the task force was conceived out of conversations with the development community and the business community," Raleigh resident Sig Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson and others on the 65-member task force still seemed blindsided by the commission's turning its back on the report it requested.

"Commissioners, this was supposed to the blue ribbon report on growth on steroids," he said.

Commissioner Betty Lou Ward, a Democrat, ridiculed the notion that international forces were at work in Wake County.

"I haven't had any black helicopters flying over my house," Ward said. "I haven't had any foreign heads of government calling me and telling me I am doing things wrong in Wake County."

Democrat James West said: "It seems as though we are saying this had to come from some kind of U.N. agenda. I'm saying we've got some good thinking people here."

Coble responded that the motion simply showed that Wake would make its own decisions, not be influenced by outside forces, including those advanced by the United Nations.

On a motion by Portman, Coble's five conditions for accepting the report were voted on one by one.

The last and perhaps most controversial portion of Coble conditions, which passed on a 4-3 party line vote, said the county would take no actions based on the United Nations' conference on sustainability in 1992.

Agenda 21, a document resulting from that conference, has been endorsed by many nations and four U.S. presidents, but has been roundly criticized by the tea party and other conservative groups.

Coble cited the adoption by many cities of the principles of ICLEI, an organization founded as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, as an example of U.N.-backed activism.

"You cannot deny that these conversations are being held around the country and that there are great problems," Coble said.

Commissioners voted unanimously to endorse the first two of Coble's conditions, that county staff will examine the report's recommendations for their cost and feasibility and that the county will obey constitutional and property rights of individuals.

Portman strongly questioned a third condition that said the county should consider the formation of a council to protect property rights. It passed on partisan lines, with Democrats all in opposition.

"It assumes that someone is trying to steal (property rights)," Portman said, rejecting that notion.

A fourth condition acknowledged the task force's work, but directed staff to adopt the sections of it that "made sense."

It passed without opposition.

Goldsmith: 919-829-8929

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