Pitrolo and Williams are cleaning up Buncombe’s air and politics

Melanie Pitrolo's courageous lawsuit and Margaret Williams' excellent investigative reporting ["Pollution, Politics and Gender," Oct. 28] open an unusually clear window on the murky back-room world of two power-brokers who have held local politics in a tight, secretive grip for many years: CIBO — the local business lobby that's more conservative than the Chamber of Commerce — and Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene, whose influence turns up at the center of countless local scandals (the Parkside land sale and Progress Energy's would-be oil-fired power plant on the French Broad are two of the best known), yet whom County Commissioners seem almost afraid to fire.

CIBO and Greene are among the last, most deeply entrenched holdouts from the "bad old days" in Buncombe, when business was habitually done with contempt for the environment, and government was routinely carried out with contempt for the public.

When I was a reporter for Mountain Xpress, I saw Pitrolo in action as supervising engineer. It was obvious to me why Bob Camby favored her as his successor: She was clearly competent, experienced, well educated, a good public speaker and just the breath of fresh air the agency needed. But it was equally obvious that the board members, with whom CIBO had recently managed to stock the agency, had come in with an agenda of weakening its power to control industrial and vehicular air pollution — and we see now that, behind closed doors, they were going to vicious and unprofessional extremes to impose on the agency the anti-regulatory ideology CIBO promotes.

Board members so bent on pushing someone they see as pliable into the director's office that they don't even bother to read the applicants' resumés; a county manager who slanders the most qualified candidate by fabricating nonexistent "complaints" about her — these are the very kinds of unethical abuses (by the very same parties) that the late, pioneering activists Hazel Fobes (Citizens for Safe Drinking Water and Air), Arlis and Rachel Queen (Taxpayers for Accountable Government), and Rick Maas (UNC-Asheville) fought so hard to end in the air agency, as reported in numerous past Mountain Xpress articles.

Whenever I interviewed them, each of these local reformers emphasized that the only effective way to prevent government corruption is through constant citizen scrutiny. They, and now Pitrolo, have shown us that it's only by having the guts to be whistleblowers and the tenacity to be watchdogs that we citizens who want a cleaner, greener future for Buncombe County can break the choke hold [that] CIBO, Greene and their ilk have for so long exerted on its progress.

— Steve Rasmussen

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