By Leslee Kulba-Any member of the public braving the snow to show up at the Buncombe County Commissioners’ retreat Tuesday found out the meeting had been canceled. No announcement had been posted on the county’s web page, nor broadcast on the radio with other closings.
Up for discussion was the county’s sustainability plan. You could guess what it said with your eyes closed, but you’d miss all the colorful pictures. The county’s first sustainability plan was adopted in 2009, and it has since undergone annual revisions. The plans are a way of defying the old adage, “You shouldn’t should on people.” The contents could be estimated with the eyes closed, except for the choice of colorful pictures.
The plan begins with a vision statement. Just pick a few PC glittering generalities from your grab sack, assign each a power verb, and you’ll come up with something equivalent. The same goes for the mission statement. We need only worry if somebody decides this kind of thing should not waste away on the proverbial bottom shelf. As for goals, the 2013 plan has fourteen.
In the area of education, the county sought to increase the graduation rates and make sure kids are performing at grade level by the third grade. More controversially, the wish list included increasing access to higher education, which today translates to incurring loads of debt and launching a career waiting tables if you’re lucky. The report was happy to announce that graduation rates increased in 2011.
As for your body, you probably know by now the county does not want you to be fat. To help rid the world of obese children, it has supported the creation of school gardens and greenways. The county does not want you to smoke, and to its credit, it advocates abstinence programs rather than cleanup ones for managing substance abuse. To help you be healthy, the 2012 plan, among other things, wished to support strategies to allow vendors at farmers’ markets to accept food stamps. Consistent with national strategies, the plan also advocates “access to affordable health insurance.” The 2012 plan toyed with a reduction of 10 percent in the number of uninsured adults.
As for “Affordable, Green, and Livable Housing,” the objective on getting unqualified parties into mortgages sounded like one of those facilitator-generated hodge-podges merging disjoint Republican and Democrat line items. Chasing certifications that show just how green buildings are remains in vogue, although some of the more pricey programs are losing their appeal. Laudable was the objective to “ensure that county regulations, ordinances, and other programs do not impede, and where possible, provide incentives for the adoption of sustainable products and strategies.”
Another goal was “Equity in Access.” This included “equality in access to healthcare” as well as the need to bridge the digital divide with subsidized internet for low-income qualifiers. Another means spelled out for achieving equality was, “increasing the availability of locally produced foods to low income individuals and increase [sic.] their educational opportunities regarding farms and locally produced foods.”
Getting back to core governmental services, another goal was public safety. It is no longer hip to talk about getting tough on crime, so these goals focused on landscaping and fostering senses of community. Showing the softer side of criminal justice, the county boasts alternative sentencing with programs to use criminals as slave labor for public works, such as sanitation and street beautification. Law enforcement personnel were to receive training “concerning economic and cultural issues,” and citizens would have their awareness raised about government programs. The county also committed to promoting “opportunities for safe, active living” with sidewalks. One boasted accomplishment was, “376 homes [were] inspected for firearm safety plans/proper firearm storage.”
More appropriately, the county did dedicate one goal to Jerry VeHaun, whose name is now synonymous with emergency preparedness. The plan in its numerous iterations is mindful of the general welfare inasmuch as it calls for making sure the county is prepared to mobilize relief in the event of foreseeable “natural and manmade disasters.”
On to the important governmental function of protecting the environment, the 2013 plan boasts “training and certification workshops for county residents to learn best management practices regarding agricultural activities, runoff, and water quality.” According to recent counts, 72,079 acres of county land had been placed in conservation easements, and 26,579 acres of farmland had been listed as Voluntary Agricultural Districts. On a more personal level, much was mentioned in the 2012 plan about educating and encouraging citizens to do anything from composting to carpooling to buying recycled products to signing up for programs. One recommended strategy stated, “Educate the public on ways to minimize individual impacts on the environment.”
A very important facet of this is reducing carbon footprints with green and multimodal transportation. Two strategies recommended under this goal in 2012 were to “investigate grant sources related to climate change that could fund multimodal transportation” and “solicit neighborhood businesses to offer rebates, discounts, or coupons for participants in rideshare program [sic.] and carpoolers [sic.].”
Economic objectives included continuing the mania of providing corporate welfare, while cooler heads prevailed in requesting that the county “encourage a ‘business-friendly’ regulatory environment.” Although it was listed with health topics, interest was expressed in promoting wellness programs not only for county employees, but for people hired by corporations with a large local presence.
Another goal worth mentioning was getting citizens more involved in local government. The 2013 plan still mentions getting Facebook likes and Twitter followers. The 2012 plan recommended “promoting partnerships for programs that teach English as a second language” and increasing “EZ registration, early voting, etc.”
A recurrent theme in the goals was “buy local.” While this has immediate positive effects for some mom and pop shops and suppliers, tough barriers to trade on the international scale have been known to hold back economies. Another recurring theme was how important it was to get kids into daycare.