Sustainablists Behaving Badly, Part II
by Carole Thorpe

Guest Editorial Graphic Schilling Show BlogIn the first part of its June 8 work session, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors (BOS) heard reports and comments from Staff and County Executive Thomas Foley. The BOS then followed by asking questions and, on a few occasions, TJPDC Executive Director Stephen Williams rose to offer answers. The BOS asked for clarification regarding the status of the 1998 Sustainability Accords—specifically, its relation to the HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant application and the Livable Communities Planning Project. In his answer, Mr. Williams called the Accords merely a “historic document” (echoing a phrase previously coined by Supervisor Dennis Rooker), and added that the Accords was submitted to HUD only as an “advisory” piece. I interpreted this statement to imply that, in current function and relevance, the Accords was an antiquated document bearing little to no consequence on current or future comprehensive plans.

I disagreed with this characterization because it is incongruous with the documentation of the grant application posted on the “Many Plans, One Community” web site (the informational hub for the Livable Communities Planning Project operated by the TJPDC itself). There, the Accords are NOT simply a “historic document” but identified on the first page of the application in the Application Abstract as follows:

“The existing Regional Plan for Sustainable Development in the Charlottesville/Albemarle metro area is the Sustainability Accords.” (http://1-community.org/PDF/application/1-Applicant%20Abstract.pdf)

The existing Regional Plan IS the Sustainability Accords.

Furthermore, as reported in an article written by Sean Tubbs in the November 24, 2010 edition of Charlottesville Tomorrow:

“Stephen Williams, the TJPDC’s executive director, said the money will be used to implement the Sustainability Accords which were developed by the Thomas Jefferson Sustainability Council and signed by regional governments in 1998.” (http://cvilletomorrow.typepad.com/charlottesville_tomorrow_/2010/11/mpo-november2010.html)

Stephen Williams said the money will be used to implement the Sustainability Accords.

So during the first break, I walked up to Mr. Williams in a cordial manner and extended my hand to shake his while introducing myself. We exchanged pleasantries—I told him I regretted not meeting him in person until now, and that I had heard him speak at a few of the BOS meetings I attended in the last few months. He acknowledged seeing me and listening to me there as well.

Then I proceeded to tell him what prompted me to approach him was the characterization of the Accords he gave to the BOS. I explained how the Accords is not just an “historic document” because it was clearly presented to HUD in the grant application as the existing plan…that the Accords along with the Charlottesville Regional Sustainability Implementation Plan (which employs ICLEI’s “Five Milestone Process”) were the foundational documents submitted to HUD as criteria to be judged in consideration for the grant request…and that HUD has every reason to expect that its $999,000.00 grant will be spent by the consortium to build upon and implement what was depicted in the foundational documents.

I said that many of the Jefferson Area Tea Party’s concerns for the Livable Communities Planning Project are rooted in the language in the Accords—especially regarding, but not limited to, human population—and what it commits our community to implementing per HUD’s expectations. In conclusion, I asked that if I prompted his recollection of the description of the Accords as the existing plan in the Application Abstract, would he please amend his previous statement to the BOS about its status after the break.

At this point, he conceded that I may be correct about the status of the Accords as stated in the Application Abstract (as referenced in the first sentence of the audio file transcript below)—but then he abruptly switched his argument in an effort to trump my contention by other means.

[Unbeknownst to me, a recording device belonging to a WCHV radio reporter picked up the next part of our conversation (see below for full audio clip). The following is a transcript of that audio file.  Italics and underlines are added in an effort to depict vocal emphasis]:

Williams: ….that may also be true, Ms. Thorpe.

Thorpe: Good.

Williams: But there is no legal standing for a Sustainability Plan because there is no legal requirement for one.

Thorpe: Perhaps not, sir,

Thorpe: but when you submitted that to the Federal government

Williams: It is simply advisory to these folks…

Thorpe: and said this is our current plan, this is what we want to implement or build on –

Williams: …advisory document

Thorpe:—that’s what you said to the Federal government.

Williams: …advisory document, Ms. Thorpe

Thorpe: Well, that’s your interpretation.

Williams: …advisory document only, it’s not my interpretation, that’s the LAW.

Thorpe: I know word for word what TG (a “G” that I incorrectly spoke for a “J” in TJPDC as I became flustered by his tone)—

Williams: I’m sorry that you don’t understand the law, Ms. Thorpe,

Thorpe: I’m reading the document that’s on your web site, sir.

Williams: and that’s been demonstrated on a number of the other things you’ve said (then unintelligible)

Thorpe: Well, I’m—no, I’m, I’m speaking about one specific item. It says it on your web site—that was sent to HUD. Folks, “this document is our current plan”, so HUD looks at it and says this is the current plan—very good, I guess this is what you’re wanting money to implement and build on…that’s why they, that’s why they’re cutting the million dollar check. Anyway…

Williams: No, I’m afraid that’s not true.

Thorpe: No, I’m afraid it is. I’m afraid it is. We can agree to disagree –

Williams: I’m afraid that’s YOUR interpretation, Ms. Thorpe

Thorpe: We can agree to disagree, and I’m looking at the documentation on your web site.

Williams: — and I’ve got to say, I understand this quite a bit better than you do.

Thorpe: Oh, really?

Williams: Yes.

Thorpe: Very good. Then why is it you said that ICLEI, you didn’t know anything about ICLEI, and yet this six—you know, these “Products”—have you compared it to the “Five Milestone Plan” in ICLEI, sir?

Williams: Ah, you know, I looked at the “Five Milestones”

Thorpe: You don’t know where the language comes from, you don’t even know what you’re talking about, you don’t know where the language comes from. You keep (saying) — ICLEI never went to TJPDC

Williams: No.

Thorpe: But it’s language –

Williams: No.

Thorpe:—and the implementation of it’s “Five Milestone Process” is in the County document which has seeped into your grant application.

Williams: You know why that is, Ms. Thorpe? Because those are basic planning principles, any grad student in planning at any school from the country could tell you that stuff, that’s in the basic curriculum.

Thorpe: You can — sir, you can speak, you can try to demean and speak that way if you like. All I can tell you is what I see

Williams: Ms. Thorpe…

Thorpe: on your web site, what’s in those documents.

Williams: You…

[End of audio file]

Unfortunately, the audio file ends here because the WCHV reporter took the recording device away for the impending resumption of the meeting. During this exchange, Mr. Williams stepped in toward me, stood intrusively close (I estimate there were no more than eight inches of space between our torsos), and used his significant height advantage to bend over the top of me then lower his face only four or five inches from mine, positioning us nose to nose.

By anyone’s definition of physically “getting in one’s face”, that’s exactly what he did. It made me, as it would make anyone, extremely uncomfortable. But I held my ground there for quite a while, not wanting to concede to him the satisfaction of intimidating me.

However, as he continued speaking I eventually lifted my right hand up in between our faces with my palm facing (but not touching) him. I looked into his eyes over the tops of my fingertips and when he finished speaking, I told him he was making me uncomfortable and invading my personal space. I asked him to please step back, but he didn’t budge from his position and asked “Why?” in an intense, snide tone. I told him again he was invading my space and I asked him a second time to please step back. Mockingly, he said, “Why should I do that? I like talking to you this way!” To break the physical stalemate, I took a big step backward then we resumed verbal sparring about the Accords as we backed away from each other towards our seats.

When I returned to my seat, I told some of the people sitting around me about the unprovoked, physical imposition I had just received from Mr. Williams. I then quieted down as the meeting resumed. During the next break, I told Supervisor Ken Boyd about the incident—and I was also prompted by one of my friends to tell it to Supervisor Rodney Thomas when he came over to speak to a group of us at the end of the meeting.

After 9:00 a.m. the next morning (Thursday), I received an e-mail from a member of the JATP steering committee who had left the meeting shortly following the end of the first break. She wrote to tell me her attention was drawn to Mr. Williams’ confrontation of me and she walked over to stand behind me about halfway through the incident and witnessed it from then to the end. While the confrontation was going on, I didn’t realize anyone I knew had come over to observe because in the heat of the moment, the only thing that had my attention was his face in mine. Later that afternoon, I called her to elaborate on what she witnessed without my input and she recounted the incident to me just as it happened.

Also early that morning, Rob Schilling called me in response to a mass E-mail I sent out a few hours earlier announcing the JATP victory in getting ICLEI kicked out of Albemarle County. He wanted more information about the meeting, knowing that I stated in my letter I had stayed there from beginning to end. Among everything else, I told him what happened with Mr. Williams. Rob offered to contact him to ask for his side of the story with an invitation to appear on his radio show with or without me to discuss it. I told Rob that I did not object to his inquiry.

Roughly an hour later, Rob advised me that Mr. Williams wrote him to deny my allegations. By doing so, Mr. Williams unfairly impugned my integrity by suggesting I was a liar. And as someone who is honest and has demonstrated her seriousness for responsible leadership of the JATP, I decided was not going to allow him to do this without my response.

On Friday, I proceeded to report this incident to the TJPDC Planning Commission Board. I left phone messages with Supervisors Ann Mallek and Dennis Rooker to call me because I could not locate contact information for the Chairman of the Board (they are both the BOS representatives on the Planning Commission Board). Supervisor Rooker called me back first and I told him what happened. He gave me the name and phone number of the TJPDC Board Chairman, with whom I spoke later that evening.

So why should all of this matter to anyone?

Of course, this incident is yet another example of the rude behavior displayed by Sustainability advocates towards Sustainability opponents at the BOS work session as I described in Part I of my Guest Editorial. And in honesty, I want to defend my honor and get the apology from Mr. Williams that I feel I deserve. But it is about substantially more than this. Mr. Williams’ position and responsibility as a public official elevates this incident to being one of potential interest and concern to the public and the TJPDC.

After consideration, I decided that both should be made aware of the disturbing behavior I experienced from Mr. Williams. I know that he does not have a positive opinion of me and the JATP because he told me so. We are a source of frustration for him because our continuing opposition to the Livable Communities Planning Project has not made his job any easier. That is understandable.

But during his disagreement with me, Mr. Williams went well beyond the standard voice raising and benign changes in posture (such as hands placed on hip or pointed fingers) that usually occurs when two people are engaged in a dispute. In my opinion, he grossly crossed the line of typical response when he deliberately and menacingly imposed his physical stature in a posture intended to demean, intimidate, and bully a woman. This is reprehensible and inexcusable behavior, which not only oversteps the bounds of civil discourse and common courtesy, but unforgivably breaches the professionalism we should all expect from a public official. While Mr. Williams may not have liked the information I brought to discuss with him, I brought it to him in a respectful manner and I did nothing to instigate nor merit what I consider his unconscionable treatment of me.

I am completely confident in my interpretation of his actions and his intent behind them. I cannot abide a bully and I believe the best way to discourage bullying behavior is to confront it and seek proper punishment for the offender. It is my intention to file a formal complaint with the Planning District Commission and bring this matter before the TJPDC at their next Board meeting in August. I will be seeking a public apology from Mr. Williams and ask the Planning Commission Board to take disciplinary action against Mr. Williams commensurate with the seriousness of his actions.

Listen to Carole Thorpe’s interaction with TJPDC Executive Director, Stephen Williams:

[audio:http://schillingshow.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/060811thorpevsguyfromTJDPC-processed2.mp3]

11 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve been researching several years for a book about revitalizing American cities. As part of my time in Charlottesville, this has involved interviewing various officials around town. During these interviews I often ask challenging questions, but I do so respectfully, and have found even after spirited debates that these interviews usually end even friendlier than they began.

    But unfortunately I can’t say this about my interview with Steve Williams at his TJPDC office a few months ago. It began pleasantly enough, as he elaborated on his career spent as an urban planner in Iowa. But the second I began asking real questions, he started to insult me, telling me I “had no clue what I was talking about”. When I responded with facts and arguments, he got extremely angry, leaning across the table close to my face, where he yelled at me as veins popped from his neck, and pounded his fist on the table. Then he abruptly ended the interview. I was disappointed by this, and emailed him that night using a conciliatory tone, and requested a follow-up interview, but never heard a response.

    Normally I wouldn’t find this story worth reporting, but do in this case for the following reason: as someone who sits somewhere between the polar opposites of ASAP and the local tea party, I believe a lot can be gained from this sustainability grant. Because it’s founded on the 1998 accords, I think as of now it’s too far reaching. But if somehow it could find a middle ground, I think it could be used in ways that satisfies both groups. For example, I don’t think either ASAP or the tea party wishes to see the excessive destruction of our natural resources, which has been an ongoing problem. Nor do either want to see rural Albemarle turn into Northern Virginia, as it increasingly seems primed to do. Yet both parties, I would hope anyway, recognize the role property rights play in our dynamic economy, and realize that amidst these competing interests, a certain balance must be struck.

    But in order for the sustainability grant to strike this balance, I think there will have to be effective communication from both sides, and a lot more bridge building than burning. And based on my own time with Steve Williams, as well as accounts of other people, I just don’t know if he’s the guy for that task. I believe he’s intelligent, and brings a lot of experience dealing in local government. But what good is any of that if he’s too belligerent to hold a basic conversation?

  2. This type of conduct on the part of Steve Williams, as well as the denial of his previous statements, calls into serious doubt the legitimacy of the million dollar HUD Grant.

    The county BOS need to take another good look at accepting the grant. If ICLEI isn’t good for our community, why accept a grant to implement it?

    If the good of the community is Mr. Williams concern, why can he not tolerate any questions about how it will be good? Why can he not provide consistent and coherent information about benefits to the community?

    What is an urban planner from Iowa doing here anyway? Sounds like another made up (non-existent)job title. Our planning needs to be done by people who are a part of THIS community.

  3. This type of conduct on the part of Steve Williams, as well as the denial of his previous statements, calls into serious doubt the legitimacy of the million dollar HUD Grant.

    By what logic does one person’s awful behavior call into question the cause he serves?

    My sympathies go out to Carole, who I think is right to speak up about this guy. But Rob’s claim that his telling her she was uninformed (as opposed to his manner as he told her) was disrespectful is bizarre, especially since he ended his show by throwing that charge right back at sustainability supporters.

    Rob’s assertion is of a piece with his self-pitying belief – which is an article of faith on the Right – that the Right is “under attack” in general. People on the Right, if you don’t like the treatment you’re receiving, you need to lay down your own rhetorical arms and learn to speak respectfully of your opponents. Try loving your enemies once in a while, Rob, instead of mocking them. You’ll find that a much more effective way to get a hearing.

  4. Ms. Thorpe,

    Once again I find myself questioning the truthfulness of your editorial. It is in the very least extremely slanted. I sat across the aisle from you in the 4th row, one back from you and did not leave the meeting until it was adjourned. Let me say that I was not around when your alleged confrontation took place with Mr. Williams, but since you showed your willingness to play fast and loose with the facts in your first editorial piece, I have to say, I feel more than reasonable doubt about the veracity of this piece. It is clear to me that you care nothing for Central Virginia, Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville. It is clear to me that the ONLY thing you care about is seeing your name in the press and your own self agrandizement. Whatever bit of respectablity the JATP had was lost when they decided you were their ideal representative.

  5. Ken, I’ll tell you what logic: What kind of cause attracts a person who behaves as Steve Williams does?? That sort of tyrannical behavior adds fuel to the suspicion that “sustainability” is misnamed!

    And Ken, I was at the meeting, and was rudely accosted and witnessed it happening to others. There were numerous unprovoked confrontations by supporters of “sustainability,” and it didn’t speak well for their cause!

    Showing love? We didn’t hesitate to turn the other cheek, allow them their opinions, and repeatedly refused to engage their confrontations. I wish the peace and love crowd would be!

    How did we do it should be your question! Being a liberal requires suspending common-sense judgement and we understand that Ken. Everything you needed to know you didn’t learn in Kindgergarten, that’s not how the world operates. When someone resorts to bullying behavior they probably know what they’re trying to do won’t stand up to honest scrutiny.

  6. I was there, Ken. You weren’t. I saw/heard it, you didn’t. Stop defending bullies. UR on the wrong side of the issue…

  7. Delores Roberts, this is the 3rd post of yours that I’ve read that is false.

    Carole doesn’t need you to believe in the veracity of her statements, there is an audio recording and an eyewitness to it. I did see and hear the incident, and must say what the recording left out was the nasty look in his eye when he was up in Carole’s face.

    Interesting that you accuse Carole of not caring about her community. Well, Delores, if what you want for this community is so good, why fly into a tantrum of baseless insults and accusations over it being discussed?

    All people like you have left to hope for, is that you will be able to provoke others into stooping to your level, because the more people learn about what your “plans” are all about, the more they reject them.

  8. Delores Rogers, baseless insults do no one any good. Regardless of whose version of events is most accurate and whose are perhaps distorted by ideology and emotion (I believe Carole about Williams at least), it’s clear from Carole’s work that she cares a great deal for Central Virginia, Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville.

    Harrison, sorry, but your arguments are beyond ridiculous. First of all, the world is full of people acting badly for good causes. And the way you’ve phrased it, even one of those people who delegitimize the cause! Why?? Secondly, if I’m disputing that Carole was badly treated, why did I write that “My sympathies go out to Carole, who I think is right to speak up about this guy”? Once again, you exhibit a lack of basic logic. Third, I did not say that your side failed to show love at that meeting. Again, try reading and responding and responding to what I wrote in plain English. Williams’ manner was plainly boorish and offensive, and quite likely intended to intimidate. Carole is right to call him out. But the claim that merely telling someone that they are ignorant of the facts is not disrespectful, and is something Rob and others on your side do constantly.

    Being a liberal requires suspending common-sense judgement

    Right, and talk radio demagoguery (and yes, Rob, the smarminess of rags like Cville too) is responsible for the fact that so many people on the Left and the Right are too lazy and prejudiced to take seriously their opponents arguments, but parrot lines like that.

    Tuttle Boy, you too have clearly not understood my post, and I’m not going to take the time to teach you how to read carefully and use logic.

  9. Thanks Carol for your work.

    Here’s the thing: 2 people can look at the same facts and arrive at different conclusions. You have to separate the meaning of the words and the full meaning of what will be done while parroting those words. Thanks for the link to the accords, a risky move since people will draw differing conclusions.

    For historical analogue, look at “economic development.” The term has a negative connotation today because of past economic development programs that hurt the economy and discouraged development. The county used the old definition in recent vision statements but had to change it to “economic vitality” to acknowledge that past actions had changed the meaning of the word to now include eminent domain abuse.

    Sustainability has a double meaning as Carol has pointed out. But which meaning? I say it is the bad kind inferred by people’s attitude. Like the conversation: “…advisory” What about..? “Advisory.” But what…? “ADVISORY!” How is it a conversation if one side simply repeats what the other side doesn’t understand? To think this attitude will not carry through someone’s actions is naive.

    I don’t want bad actors implementing any policies.

  10. Ken, Parroting?? No, I’ve learned it from experience.

    I grew up watching whinny liberals exaggerate nearly any possible condition and claim to “care,” and that required other people to do something about it. They’d get a pat on the head and we’d hope they’d go away and leave us alone. You know how that turned out?

    We have some “urban planner” reportedly from Iowa, standing at a meeting gritting his teeth, bullying an actual resident there to express concern for her counties future!

    So don’t preach to me about logic. You are ignoring the truth Ken. Yes thank you for being fair in general of Carole’s account.

    No-growthers and liberal socialists aren’t used to being challenged, that is what is at the root of this problem.

  11. Harrison, I rebut you point by point, and your response is to shift the argument to your experiences with liberals, which you think proves we’re all alike, which is a truth I must be ignoring? I think any view of reality where conservatives are the Good guys and liberals are the Bad guys, or vice-versa, is a cartoon version of reality. I also think that if Williams is the Executive Director of the TJPDC, he must reside here. That group has 12 board members, as well as 5 staffers besides Williams, by the way.

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