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Casey: Roanoke County caves to tea-fed hounding

Casey: Roanoke County caves to tea-fed hounding

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Allow me to bring you up to speed on the longest-running soap opera in Roanoke County government, “As the ICLEI Turns.”

That’s necessary because at least three years after the Roanoke Tea Party began spouting ridiculous conspiracy theories and other nonsense about the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives, the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors is on the cusp of dropping its $1,200-per-year membership in the group.

As part of the budget process, the county’s five supervisors are now marking up a “yea or nay” list of memberships in various and sundry organizations. This is the first time membership in ICLEI has been a line item.

Those budget study papers are due Tuesday. The only supervisor favoring continued membership in ICLEI is Charlotte Moore, an independent who represents the Cave Spring District. Thus it appears the issue will go down on a 4-1 vote that’s mostly out of the public eye.

That will give the Roanoke Tea Party its biggest legislative victory ever, and pretty much the only one in five years of existence. The question is, how did we get here? Here’s the recap:

n In August 2007, the board of supervisors adopted a resolution to join ICLEI. It’s composed of more than 1,000 local governments that share voluntary strategies for reducing pollution and fostering sustainable development. The chief benefit from membership is use of a software program that allows the county to identify, measure and track carbon emissions.

n In 2011, perhaps even before then, a handful of Roanoke Tea Party comrades began showing up at Roanoke County Board of Supervisors meetings and yammering about ICLEI. At meeting after meeting, the tea party faithful denounced the group as a tool through which the United Nations was seeking to subvert and control land-use planning in Roanoke County. And they demanded Roanoke County drop its $1,200 a year membership in the group.

n In at least two 3-2 votes, supervisors sided with keeping ICLEI membership. In each case the majority consisted of supervisors Moore, Richard Flora from the Hollins District and Mike Altizer from Vinton. The latter two are Republicans.

n A handful of tea party members, some of whom didn’t even live in the county, kept showing up at supervisors’ meetings. They denounced the idea of man-made global warming as a bunch of lies and “junk science.” They opposed commercial wind energy, raising the specter of flaming windmills. They publicly fretted about “smart” electric meters. They asked the board to open its meetings with Christian prayers. And they kept hammering on ICLEI.

n In 2013 Flora and Altizer announced they wouldn’t seek re-election. They’d had enough of that garbage.

n  Altizer was replaced by former county planning commissioner Jason Peters, who ran unopposed, and Flora was replaced by Al Bedrosian. He wants the county out of ICLEI.

n Meanwhile anti-ICLEI Supervisor Ed Elswick, an independent from Windsor Hills, lost his re-election bid to former Supervisor Joe McNamara. During his campaign, McNamara publicly stated that not one person whose door he knocked brought up any concerns about ICLEI.

n At Bedrosian’s request in January, yet another public hearing was held about ICLEI. There, people who favored the county’s continuing membership outnumbered the tea partyers by 2-1. Afterward, Bedrosian and Supervisor Butch Church of Catawba, an independent, voted to ditch ICLEI. Moore, McNamara and Peters voted to refer the issue to budget study.

That’s how ICLEI got on the list of membership organizations county supervisors are quietly voting on now. And last week, both McNamara and Peters told me they’ll vote to de-list the ICLEI membership. Both of them said ICLEI has become way too big a distraction.

“ICLEI is such an extremely divisive issue. We are spending way too much time on something that’s relatively small potatoes,” McNamara said. “The only benefit [to ICLEI membership] I see is some monitoring software. I will give up that monitoring software for other software without the political baggage.”

Peters said: “I guess I’m tired of hearing about it.” He added: “I don’t get into these conspiracy theories, that someone is sweeping in to take us over. … I don’t pay attention to the tea party. They’re extremists.”

In other words, they’re dropping ICLEI in the hope the tea party will shut up. That’s the same strategy employed by misguided parents who placate a tantrum-throwing child.

They aren’t the first politicians in history to take the appeasement tack, though it rarely works out well.

Recall if you will Neville Chamberlain, Great Britain’s prime minister in the late 1930s. He engineered the 1938 Munich Agreement that handed over Czechoslovakia to Germany after a bunch of saber rattling by Adolf Hitler.

When Chamberlain returned to London, Brits feted him with choruses of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” because they thought military conflict in Europe had been avoided. But Munich only emboldened Hitler. Soon he was invading Poland and World War II was on.

“They think this is going to make the tea party go away and not bother them anymore,” said Diana Christopolus, president of the pro-ICLEI Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition. “And I think it’s going to encourage them. … And it’s only going to make it worse.”

Meanwhile, county General Services Director Anne Marie Green has been hunting for a replacement for the carbon-monitoring software the county now gets as part of its $1,200-per-year membership in ICLEI.

Although there are plenty of programs that will monitor carbon emissions from a single building or building site, Green told me Friday she can find only one that will track the carbon from an entire community.

It’s produced by ICLEI. If the county drops its $1,200 membership, the county can still use that software — at a cost of $2,500 per year.

Only in the whacked-out world of the tea party would such a thing make fiscal sense.

Contact metro columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or dan.casey@roanoke.com. Follow him on Twitter @dancaseysblog.

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Dan Casey knows a little bit about a lot of things but not a heck of a lot about most things. That doesn't keep him from writing about them, however. So keep him honest!

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