Williamsburg, VA: County Board of Supervisors Debate Affiliation With International Sustainability Group

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Williamsburg Yorktown Daily

Williamsburg, VA - James City County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mary Jones said Tuesday that she’s uncomfortable with the county’s affiliation with an international sustainability program and she wants the Board to withdraw its membership.

Jones said at the Board’s Tuesday evening meeting that citizens have been asking why the county is a member of ICLEI: Local Governments for Sustainability, which the county joined as part of its Green County Resolution in 2007, according to Tuesday’s Board discussion. Jones said that citizens didn’t like that the group embraces United Nations policies, and that she shared their concern. Supervisor John McGlennon said the county has made sustainability a priority, and that’s also the goal of ICLEI. He also pointed out that local Tea Party members distributed negative information about ICLEI during a recent meeting, and he said he was concerned that the materials aim to create a conspiracy out of nothing. The Board agreed to discuss the issue further.

Jones said after hearing recent citizen concerns about the group she looked at the ICLEI website and that she was also concerned about the county’s affiliation with the organization. Jones brought a copy of the UN’s Agenda 21 that she had printed off the ICLEI website to the dais. Agenda 21 is an action plan to reduce human impact on the environment and one of the programs supported by ICLEI. Jones said citizens are asking “why we are embracing policies under UN resolutions… and I share that same concern.” She also said, “I have read a majority of Agenda 21; it is very interesting reading. That’s where my discomfort is.”

She said she’s “uncomfortable” that “we’re paying dues to be a member… I’d ask the Board to consider we withdraw our membership to ICLEI.” (View the meeting online and select the Board requests and directives section at the end of the meeting.)

McGlennon shared his concern about Jones’ request. “Our Comprehensive Plan talks about sustainability,” he said, and this is a core value to the county and to ICLEI. He said the group “provides useful tools to examine the impact we’re having on the environment… it is an information-gathering and dissemination organization rather than a UN arm.”

McGlennon also said “people are claiming it is an international and Socialist, Communist plot." He said information on Article 21 and ICLEI was distributed at a recent Tea Party meeting he and Jones attended, though Jones said she left before that information was handed out. “If you look at materials disseminated at that [meeting], that really creates a conspiracy out of whole cloth,” McGlennon said.

Several conservative and Tea Party websites offer similar opinions on the alleged dangers of Agenda 21 and ICLEI. On the conservative website The New American, an article by William Jasper called “Your Hometown and the United Nations’ Agenda 21” says of the program: “these initiatives that have been enacted ostensibly to save the environment, invariably destroy economic vitality, erode property rights, undermine liberty and constitutional government, impose soviet-style rule through ‘stakeholder councils,’ subvert local control — and usually devastate the natural environment to boot.”

On the Patriot News Network website, an article titled “ICLEI Primer: Your Town and Freedom Threatened,” the article warns, “Right now, in your town and neighborhood, policies are being implemented that will ultimately eliminate your freedoms and destroy your way of life” and says that “ICLEI uses the false premise and outright lies of anthropogenic global warming to change our way of life, for the worse!”

Supervisor Bruce Goodson said he was on the Board when the county passed the Cool County Resolution in 2007, and that he was uncomfortable with the political language at the time. According to the minutes of the October 2007 meeting, Goodson moved to adopt an alternative resolution that removed language that said human action caused global warming because he didn’t believe there was enough indisputable evidence of it, but the Board voted him down.

Goodson also said an ICLEI member recently sent him a letter asking him to endorse some recent Environmental Protection Agency mandates. “This is getting into political lobbying,” he said. “That’s where I find my discomfort. What are they using our dues for in this organization?”

The county pays $1,200 a year for membership. The primary benefit, according to information from a 2011 Question and Answer document, has been the use of ICLEI software and protocol to conduct a baseline greenhouse gas inventory. The Clean Counties Resolution sets a goal for greenhouse gas reduction and the measurement process is based on ICLEI procedures. ICLEI staff is also gives technical assistance.

Jones defended her suggestion at the meeting. “To me, it’s about what’s good for James City County and what’s good for standing for freedom.”

Supervisor Jim Kennedy took umbrage with Jones’ use of the word “freedom”. “People throw that term around loosely,” he said. “If we have a feeling that our freedom is threatened, I want to know how.” But, he said, “I don’t want to get into a political debate.”

The Board agreed to look at the pros and cons of the county’s membership with ICLEI.