News

Local ties to ICLEI fading

by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Sequim Gazette

Say goodbye to ICLEI.

 

The international organization, created by the United Nations to gather local governments around the world in a commitment to sustainable development, is leaving Clallam County.

 

The City of Sequim’s membership in ICLEI lapsed at the end of September.

 

Clallam County Administrator Jim Jones has been directed by the county commissioners to remove the annual $1,200 payment for county dues to ICLEI from the next budget. Unless the commissioners act before Dec. 6 to rescind that decision, the new budget will reflect the commissioners’ order.

 

ICLEI, which is formally known as “ICLEI: Local Governments for Sustainability,” has been the subject of heated debate for the past few years, with the Concerned Citizens of Clallam County taking a stance against local membership.

 

Bill Paulbitski explained the issue the Concerned Citizens have with ICLEI, pointing out that it is an administrative organization tasked with carrying out Agenda 21, the U.N.’s template for global sustainable growth.

 

“It’s not a question of being green,” he said.

 

“Everyone should be green. It’s authority. That’s the question,” Paulbitski said.

 

He said that many object to following the rules and guidelines promoted by ICLEI simply because they aren’t home-grown.

 

“Who defines our needs?” he asked.

 

Paulbitski said in following Agenda 21 guidelines some communities in the U.S. have created radical policies. He cited rules sought in Sonoma County, Calif., that would have “made it very difficult to live in rural areas.”

 

“Cities and counties jumped on the bandwagon,” he said.

 

People are concerned, he said, because ICLEI is providing administrative functions that are rightly reserved to the people of the United States.

More about money

Officials with the city and the county say they’ve listened the complaints, but none were willing to say they played a part in their decision to let their ICLEI membership lapse.

 

Jones attributed the decision to a tight budget.

 

He said the county joined ICLEI three years ago because the organization offered software “that would have otherwise cost us $10,000.”

 

The software was useful, Jones said, in helping the county determine where it could cut costs and its carbon footprint, including “analyzing electricity usage throughout a building —— like the courthouse.”

ICLEI also publishes a newsletter providing information on the strategies municipalities and counties around the nation are utilizing to reduce their costs.

 

“That was part of the ... sales pitch,” Jones said. “Nobody had heard of Agenda 21 at the time.”

 

Since then, Jones said, “somebody on a national radio show” brought it to everyone’s attention.

 

Jones remains unconvinced it’s a nefarious organization.
“It’s a straw bogeyman,” he said. “When Agenda 21 came out the first President Bush signed it. It said, ‘Gee, we have to quit polluting.’ It didn’t seem to be a big deal.”
“The people who say that it’s part of a plot to take over the Constitution and the United States ... . It’s just a little ridiculous. There are a lot bigger problems in the world, and in the county,” Jones said. “Keeping it or letting it go is of very little consequence. In my opinion it’s very, very trivial.”
Jones provided one caveat, saying, “What’s not trivial is the right to free speech. The commissioners are rightly taking the people’s opinion into con-sideration.”
County Commissioner Steve Tharinger said he supported dropping county membership in ICLEI “partly because of the budget, partly because we’d gotten our money’s worth out. It seemed like we’d received the value we wanted when we joined ICLEI.”
Tharinger said he also doesn’t “buy into” the notion that the U.N. is seeking to determine or influence county policy.
“I haven’t had any conversations with the U.N. on any of the decisions I’ve made,” he said.
Sequim City Manager Steve Burkett said he learned the city was a member of ICLEI when he was hired for his current position in October 2009. “I couldn’t find much value in it, so we dropped it,” he said.
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