By Leslee Kulba-Tuesday’s meeting of Asheville City Council was so jam-packed, two overflow rooms were opened, and members of the press had to wait in the hall until seats became available in the chamber. The bulk of citizens present came to show support for two items at the end of the agenda.
Civil Liberties Resolution –
The first was a “Resolution Endorsing the Protection of Civil Liberties of All Citizens.” From a purist standpoint, the matter was, as council candidate Mike Lanning said during public comment, “not worth the paper it was written on.” Lanning said as a sworn officer he had to take oaths to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the state constitution. He appreciated the sentiment against excessive use of force by law enforcement, but the gesture was redundant. It in fact had the appearance of reducing the first and foremost role of government, that of protecting the rights of citizens, to a page of affirmations awash in a sea of libraries of extra-Constitutional law.
The resolution stated, “It remains the policy of the City of Asheville to protect against discrimination on the basis of race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability , immigration status, religious or political opinion or activity, or homed or homeless status.”
It further declared, “City of Asheville employees do not and shall not collect, maintain or disseminate information of any individual, association, organization, corporation, business or partnership based solely on political, religious or social views, associations or activities, unless said information is directly related to an investigation of criminal conduct.”
Councilman Cecil Bothwell, who was behind getting the resolution on council’s agenda, has been campaigning against the Patriot Act since its inception. In preparing the resolution, he said he had worked with several Christian leaders, a mullah, and at least one rabbi. He then rattled off a list of organizations that had contributed to the thought process. Even though City Attorney Martha McGlohon confirmed the resolution contained nothing that wasn’t in state law or city policy, Bothwell said the reinforcement was necessary for public reassurance. In spite of the Supreme Law of the Land, officers continue to be accused of arresting people for “driving while black” or “driving while brown.” Sheriffs in North Carolina have gotten into trouble with the ACLU for setting up roadblocks that appear to target certain populations. And there have been a host of recent stories about abuses of power targeting conservatives.
The ordinance also declared that the City of Asheville would not usurp the authority of the federal government as the legitimate enforcer of immigration law. Others who spoke told of communities of illegal immigrants who were afraid to report crimes to local law enforcement lest they be deported. When council’s Public Safety Committee discussed the resolution, Councilman Jan Davis expressed concerns that the resolution was lining Asheville up for sanctuary city status. He approved advancing the resolution to the full council provided staff would “explain the ‘sanctuary’ impact.” Nobody mentioned this Tuesday, and council approved the resolution unanimously.
Municipal Regulation of Utilities Resolution –
The second big event was best described by Kelly Martin, spokesperson for the Sierra Club’s Asheville Beyond Coal Campaign. A mother of three, Martin said this was the last generation that could save the world from climate change. Rather than witnessing the end of life on earth as we know it, she wanted to be able to tell her children, “We did it!”
In the hot seat was Jason Walls, communications manager for Duke Energy Progress. Walls began his remarks by saying his company was not interested in buying into a program with the ultimate goal of shutting down the Asheville coal-burning plant. His company was obligated by law to provide electricity to customers reliably and affordably, 24-7. It also had an interest in doing so as efficiently as possible. Duke currently conducts R&D in the field of clean and green technologies for power generation, but the alternatives remain too rudimentary to meet current demand. Another speaker, Ashley Brown, was suspicious of Walls. Duke Energy, after all, was a large corporation motivated by profit, and coal-fired plants were the dirtiest generators of electricity.
What was before council was a proposal to partner with Duke Energy to meet its stated goal of reducing the city’s carbon footprint to (not by) 80 percent of an apparently irrelevant baseline by 2050. Council initially chose to impose its green edicts only on municipal activities with hopes of leading by example. But last summer, pressured by the Sierra Club and the Western North Carolina Alliance, they took an interest in the environmental impact of coal ash leachate. This led to efforts to get the city to partner with Duke.
As if the prospect of city council or city staff assuming a regulatory role for a private utility company wasn’t enough, Mayor Terry Bellamy expressed concerns the city was not being inclusive. She thought other businesses should be invited to partner with the city in reducing greenhouse gases as well. Members of council therefore unanimously adopted the resolution to enter into a partnership with Duke Energy to reach the 80 percent goal, and directed the city’s Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment (SACEE) to come up with a plan to get other businesses on board.