Williamsburg, VA: County Board of Supervisors Agree to Withdraw Affiliation With ICLEI - International Sustainability Group


By Desiree Parker
Williamsburg Yorktown Daily

August 10, 2011

Virginia - The Republican majority on the James City County Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday to end the county’s membership with an international sustainability program that has become a divisive issue over recent months.

Board Chairman Mary Jones first requested that the county withdraw from ICLEI: Local Governments for Sustainability in June. Board member Jim Kennedy requested in the interim that the Board look at all the various groups the county has membership with instead of singling out one for review. At their Tuesday afternoon work session, staff prepared a list of all 124 organizations to which the county has membership, as well as details on a number of these groups.

The board chose only to discuss one membership organization – ICLEI. Both Democratic supervisors supported keeping the county’s membership with the group, while Republicans Jones and Bruce Goodson opted not to renew the membership. Kennedy was clearly wrestling with the decision, but finally agreed after much tense board discussion to let the membership lapse.

Jones reiterated to the board that she had read letters in local media and had heard from citizens concerned about ICLEI’s affiliation with the UN’s Agenda 21, an action plan to reduce human impact on the environment.

She argued that the county can be a good steward of the environment without affiliation with the group.

County Administrator Robert Middaugh said staff had chosen to become members in 2009 when the county was ready to engage in a study of local greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to reduce the county’s carbon footprint.

Faced with spending about $25,000 to hire a consultant to do the work or to pay the $1,200 annual membership fee to ICLEI to have the software and tools needed to complete the study, the county chose the latter, Middaugh explained.

While the county has continued to make use of ICLEI tools, Middaugh said the membership has “turned into a divisive issue in the county… more, the organization itself seems to be a lightning rod,” and that his recommendation was that this “is not a fight you want to fight.”

Goodson said he agreed with staff’s assessment that it was too divisive an issue.

McGlennon said if the determining criteria for maintaining membership was whether it benefitted the county, then he felt ICLEI met that standard. It saved the county money and provided “a policy benefit to us,” he said.

“It has proven to be worthwhile. It is not a UN agency, it is not driven by Agenda 21… and not an active political participant, able to direct us… they haven’t ordered us to do anything… or given advice that has negatively impacted the county.”

Jones read information from the ICLEI website that referenced Agenda 21 and the UN.

One page of the website describing the organization’s goals says its “approach links local action and solutions to the global challenges we are facing, and therefore also links local action to global goals and targets,” and lists Agenda 21 and other UN agreements along with several other goals and targets.

The Tea Party has been warning of the alleged dangers of ICLEI and Agenda 21; read more about this in a previous story.

McGlennon argued that the citizens who have spoken with the board in favor of canceling ICLEI membership have tied the issue to regulation of private property and the loss of freedom, which isn’t something ICLEI can do. “I don’t see circumstances that will take away our personal liberty,” he said.

Jones argued most people she had heard from wanted the county to cancel its membership.

McGlennon responded that the board always listens to citizens’ concerns. “If we find complaints are valid, we act on them. If not, we don’t.”

After considerable heated discussion among the board, the group turned to Kennedy for the deciding vote. “It pains me… I’m making a decision I feel I’m forced to make,” he said. This “is one of the most divisive issues that has ever been brought before the board” in the years that he has served on it, Kennedy said.

“I haven’t seen a lot of conclusive evidence,” Kennedy continued, though he didn’t say which side had failed to make its case in his estimation.

After criticizing the board for being continually divisive, he agreed to support ending the county’s membership with ICLEI.

“We’ll see what happens in November,” he said, referring to the upcoming election in which all three Republican seats are up for reelection.

The county’s membership will expire on December 31.