A statement signed by 298 U.S. mayors, 10 of them from North Carolina, lists municipalities pledging to uphold the principles of the Paris Agreement after President Donald Trump’s decision two weeks ago to back away from the non-binding climate pact.
About 50 Cary residents have emailed Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, wondering if he would add Cary to that list. Weinbrecht responded to each of them, saying he would not.
“We'd be passing a resolution where you're telling another governing body how to do their business,” he said. “Is that going to change their mind? Or is it going to make things worse?”
The mayors of Asheville, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Durham, Franklin, Greensboro, Hillsborough, Raleigh and Winston-Salem have all signed on to a statement put out by the Climate Mayors, which expresses the group’s continued support for the Paris Agreement and its goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius through 2100.
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Another open letter committing its signatories to that goal and rebuking the Trump administration’s withdrawal has been signed by the mayors of Asheville, Durham, Charlotte and Winston-Salem.
“I definitely think local government should take the charge,” Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle said. “This is where the action would take place. The mayors are very balanced in terms of political affiliation – there are almost as many Republican mayors who have signed on as there are Democrats. I don't necessarily view this as a partisan issue. It affects everyone, not only in our town and state, but also in the world.”
Weinbrecht said it is Cary’s practice to stay out of divisive political battles that take place mostly on the state and national stages. Weinbrecht said he broke from that practice last year by publicly denouncing North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which limited protections for LGBTQ people and led a variety of events and businesses to turn away from Cary.
In a blog post Monday, Weinbrecht said he and other town officials would consider adopting a concrete policy for the sake of consistency.
Weinbrecht isn’t the only area mayor to abstain. But Cary is the largest Triangle community to have stayed out of the fray, and Fayetteville is the only North Carolina city larger than Cary to have not stated its support for Paris’s goals.
Morrisville Mayor Mark Stohlman said he didn’t think it was the town’s place to involve itself in the matter.
Apex Mayor Lance Olive said he was not prepared to comment, but Apex Councilman Bill Jensen said he knew Olive felt similarly.
“Mayor Olive doesn’t want to do it either,” he said. “I just thought that a big petition would be a big statement for the U.S. states and towns to show that we care, because the rest of the world thinks we’re dumb, and they’re right.”
But Jensen, a longtime environmental advocate, also acknowledged that the wording in the statements might strike some town officials as unnecessarily partisan.
Weinbrecht agreed, saying such gestures could encourage a dangerous turn toward partisanship in municipal government, where he believes none should exist. A strong response could be seen as an undue affront to policymakers higher up the ladder, he added.
Weinbrecht and other Triangle mayors have publicly denounced a pair of bills in the North Carolina legislature that would make municipal elections partisan affairs and move municipal balloting to even years, alongside partisan state and federal races.
“I can tell you that three of our council members like what Trump did, but they all agreed with me and said we don't need to be bringing this forward,” Weinbrecht said. “In the end, when you don't sign it, there's not the public outcry – we continue to focus on the business that we're voted in to do.”
Cary is one of the state’s “environmental leaders,” Weinbrecht said. He said he thinks Cary’s advocacy should be limited to protecting and expanding the tools local governments can wield directly, as in the case of a state bill that would prevent towns from enforcing stream buffers beyond what the state requires.
“We have buffers that are twice the state's average and the ability to do all kinds of things to do with the environment,” Weinbrecht said. “That has a clear and definite impact on what we're doing. I'd call around and see if we could come together and do something. I’d say that this is not OK, that we need to stand up.”
Gragan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan