After a lengthy public hearing, a divided Albemarle Board of Supervisors voted late Wednesday to end the county’s membership in a nonprofit organization that provides software and technical advice to communities seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The vote came immediately after a unanimous vote to continue the county’s participation in a $1 million regional sustainability planning grant being administered by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission .
The county joined ICLEI in late 2007 after the board adopted a resolution to join the Cool Counties initiative to pursue reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the county as a whole. ICLEI provided software that developed reports tracking progress toward the goal.
Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said he wanted to continue to monitor the county’s own emissions, but not those of the community as a whole.
“It’s not our place as government to dictate to our citizens how they should live or not live,” Boyd said. “Why would we want to keep up with what they’re doing if it is not to lead up to that ultimate goal?”
Supervisor Duane Snow said he believes ICLEI is an international organization that seeks to control the behavior of Albemarle citizens.
“We [don’t] need to have an outside group dictating and feeding us information based on the things they feel are important,” Snow said. “Everyone has an agenda. You might say that ICLEI does not have an agenda … but in my heart I feel like from the things that I’ve read that they do have an agenda.”
However, Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said the Cool Counties initiative was a non-binding effort that only suggests voluntary practices.
“There’s absolutely nothing that I have seen anywhere, anyhow, that has anything mandatory,” Mallek said.
Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said the $1,200 annual membership in ICLEI provided the county with a lot of benefits and came without any strings attached.
“It’s not a part of the United Nations. It’s not supported by the U.N. and it’s not governed by the U.N.,” Rooker said. “We have a tool that staff says is helpful, is inexpensive and that cannot be replaced by anything else that’s out there.”
The board voted 4-2 to withdraw membership, with Mallek and Rooker voting against. The software will remain on Albemarle’s computers, but the county will not be able to receive technical support or updates.
On the subject of the regional planning grant, Rooker quoted from the staff report that recommended continued participation in the three-year joint effort with the city of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia.
“The grant funds additional staff support for updating the county Comprehensive Plan without [the need for] additional county resources, provides for expanded public outreach … and the project heightens the area’s ongoing collaborative and cooperative planning efforts,” Rooker said.
Rooker said pulling out of the grant would be a “slap in the face” to the city, UVa and the TJPDC.
However, Boyd said he continued to be concerned about the grant because he never saw the details in the grant application before it was submitted. He said he would only support signing the contract if the board could control which subject areas staff would study as part of the work.
“Albemarle’s participation in it, and our $161,000 worth of staff time, ought to be on items that we have defined as a board of directors [where] we set the agenda,” Boyd said. The cost of staff time had been factored into the required local match for the grant.
County Executive Tom Foley said he could provide work plan information to the board so it could further discuss the matter at an upcoming meeting.
“We will quickly schedule to come back and review with you more of a detailed work plan,” Foley said.
The board voted unanimously to sign the agreement. However, supervisors deferred a vote on ending its participation in the Cool Counties initiative with some members citing a concern raised by Foley that doing so might also terminate the county’s participation in the Local Climate Action Planning Process with the city and UVa. A status report on LCAPP already has been drafted and Mallek recommended receiving that report before making a final decision.