Service vs. confrontation in state agencies

Finally, we see signs that state agencies in North Carolina might be reined in and accountable for the all too often attitude of confrontation with private citizens. A Wilmington StarNews article by Kate Queram illustrates a new approach about public service bureaucracies by the Gov. McCrory administration. (link)

Of course, agencies have authority assigned to carry out state and federal laws passed by our elected officials. However, many laws get passed with scant thought based on often restrictive, costly ideology (e.g. “Obama care” and “gun control”), little public support and fraught with more negative than positive results. Worse, agencies charged with rule-making and enforcement frequently operate with little or no oversight. Employees become arrogant, rigid, self-promoting and backed by small, but activist, interest groups.

Cases in point: the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the N. C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

John Skvarla now heads the DENR. A business-oriented environmentalist, he expects the agency to become a “service-friendly organization.” In private life Skvarla has profited from the federal Clean Water Act regulations, but he found interaction with DENR to be “largely combative and fraught with red tape…more adversarial than it’s needed to be,” he said. The new secretary can’t restructure it, but he hopes to create a “customer service” attitude and priority in the organizational culture. We’ll see.

Public service employees often have powerful political supporters that can thwart the efforts of reformers. For example, “experts” weigh in to question his plans. UNC-Wilmington biologist David Webster, also a member of the Coastal Resources Commission—another state agency, says he’s “suspicious of the influence that special interest groups have on the political process.”

That’s laughable considering Webster represents environmental group interests; people whose mission it is to regulate and control land use activities on private property—often based on scary predictions, pseudoscientific propaganda, legal threats and unrealistic demands. Arrogantly, he warns that “political appointees…know better than to try to contradict what the experts in the discipline are telling them.” Appointees beware the power of “experts.”

This is not opinion or conjecture. Here in southeastern North Carolina we’ve observed years of efforts by the Coastal Federation, Waterkeeper Alliance, the Southern Environmental Law Center and a network of activist groups scheming frantically to stall and stop private land development by the Carolinas Cement Company. The Stop Titan Network fear campaign, lawsuits and slanderous statements by members against the company have been supported by some UNC biologists—who need to be reminded that they, too, are state employees.

We assume Mr. Skvarla knows what he’s up against and hope he has to courage to stand against coming opposition to assure that the DENR culture becomes service driven rather than confrontational toward citizens of this State.


About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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