On Jan. 16, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to give Progress Energy, a for-profit company, a $1 lease on public land so they can build an oil-burning plant. Before the vote, David Gantt announced, “This is democracy!” He then thanked the [many] people who spoke against [the plant]—those of us foolish enough to think that scientific research and common sense should drive commission decisions.
That hearing had absolutely nothing to do with democracy. It was an unhealthy blend of bureaucracy and capitalism—a demonstration of a utility and a commission … [refusing] to take a moral stand and instead completely ignoring the elephant in the room: global warming. Programs such as net-metering and educational campaigns would remove the need for this plant.
However, our commissioners are all about endorsing the status quo. They’re governing for the very short term, rather than for the long-term health and safety of our county. This vote was a subsidy of foreign oil and dirty air. We discovered that the commissioners had known about this issue for two years and failed to consult their own Environmental Advisory Board. That’s not democracy.
Democracy is not about backdoor decision-making and deal making. Democracy is not about springing such a huge project on the public with only a few weeks for folks to prepare a rebuttal. Democracy is about making tough decisions for the community good. It’s about listening to your constituency and respecting their time and feedback and then making a decision.
We’ve brought to this commission’s attention a serious multifamily housing loophole and the operation of its planning board and the fact that there are three people on that board right now with expired terms. Yet the commissioners haven’t lifted a finger to make any of this right. We also have a zoning plan in front of us that is so weak and watery that it is almost pointless. I don’t even know why the Coalition of Independent Business Owners (the only organization to speak in favor of the $1 subsidy) seems to be sweating it.
I hope, come Election Day, we see some real democracy. I hope citizens like me will turn business-as-usual on its head and vote in real environmental stewards rather than CIBO supporters.
And here’s a news flash to the commissioners: CIBO is a dinosaur. They have their eyes closed to the realities of finite resources and the public good. They continually play the same broken record rather than offering nonpartisan research and alternatives to our growing development problems. However, we’re in the middle of a sea change, and people are sick of the lack of planning in this county and the lack of stewardship that seems to be the hallmark of this commission.
This vote was a moral one, and democracy was nowhere to be seen in that room.