As he promised during his run for the Board of Supervisors last fall, newly-minted Hollins District representative Al Bedrosian had some pointed questions for Roanoke County staffers at the first public meeting he took part in.
Bedrosian, whose first motion was denied (he wanted to move an item from closed session to a public one) asked about Roanoke County’s involvement with ICLEI, an international organization that promotes energy conservation.
The self-described Conservative Christian, elected as a Republican, also peppered County Attorney Paul Mahoney about the decision to back away from a more Christian prayer in favor of a secular invocation at board meetings, a more non-denominational blessing. “Why do we have the [secular] policy in place?” said Bedrosian, who felt it wasn’t enforced anyway.
Mahoney told Bedrosian that the cost to battle a lawsuit from an organization that wanted the prayer to stop could have cost taxpayers in the county dearly if they had fought to keep the more Christian prayer in place.
Bedrosian told Mahoney he was afraid it was a slippery slope – could the denial of second amendment gun rights in the county be next. “If that also comes under fire, do we also give in on those rights?”
Mahoney sees the new prayer policy, enacted last year, as “a shield for the county [so] we don’t open ourselves up to litigation threat from the Freedom from Religion group or the ACLU. That will help protect us.”
Bedrosian also asked about the county’s $1200 a year investment in software from ICLEI, which many claim has ties to the United Nations.
Some, including members of the Roanoke Tea Party, see that as a way to force development patterns like cluster housing and promote energy saving methods that some would choose not to use.
Anne Marie Green, director of general services for Roanoke County and a staff liaison to the RC CLEAR citizen’s committee affiliated with ICLEI, told Bedrosian that “contrary to popular belief,” ICLEI is not affiliated with the United Nations.
Green told Bedrosian the RC CLEAR/ICLEI is well worth the $1200 spent annually for software that helps the county measure its efforts to reduce carbon footprints, both at county facilities and by residents. One hundred homeowners and a handful of businesses received one of the free energy audits offered last year. Green has said some of those audited have taken measures to make their homes more energy efficient since then.
Green also said Roanoke County has worked with other localities to develop the Saveaton.org website, where people can calculate their potential energy savings and look for tips on how to reduce energy usage “in their daily lives. It is a regional program.”
Green also noted a school campaign that has been developed to help teach students about reducing carbon footprints at home – less energy usage that can help lead to cleaner air. “It’s all because of RC CLEAR.”
If RC CLEAR/ICLEI remains funded Green said the county would like to offer more energy audits. But without the $1200 ICLEI software, “you don’t have any way to measure [carbon footprints]. You don’t know if you’ve made an impact or not.” Roanoke County has also saved more than the $1200 it spends annually for the software, Green noted. Businesses are interested in quality of life when looking to relocate here. “They specifically ask about ICLEI. It is a well-known group for local governments to belong to. Membership in ICLEI is what we make [of] it.”
Bedrosian questioned a free trip that both Green and Cave Spring supervisor Charlotte Moore took to an ICLEI conference. Moore defended ICLEI membership as an educational tool: “We are learning all the time.”
Bedrosian also said he didn’t believe in man-made global warming and asked if that was the “number one reason” why the county was involved with ICLEI.
“The benefits you mentioned all sound great,” said Bedrosian, who asked Green and RC CLEAR chairman Jesse Freedman if they believed in global warming. “Absolutely,” said Freeman, “and so do 97 percent of climate scientists.” Green was more non-committal but did say she believed carbon emissions “make the air dirty and contributes to pollution in the Roanoke Valley.”
Bedrosian has asked for the ICLEI membership issue to be put on the agenda for next week’s Board of Supervisors meeting (Jan. 28). “I want to make sure I understand the reasons we’re involved,” he said.
By Gene Marrano