RALEIGH — Over the next few weeks expect to see some of the blanks left after the hectic windup to the legislative session filled in, with appointments pending for an array of state boards and commissions and the fate of more than three dozen bills still up in the air.
One of the biggest remaining tasks coming out of the session is filing dozens of vacancies left by a major restructuring of the key commissions that shape state environmental policy. Both Gov. Pat McCrory and House Speaker Thom Tillis haven’t completed their appointments, leaving the commissions not just understaffed, but unable to meet.
A provision in the budget bill passed last month ended the terms of all members of the state’s Environmental Management Commission, the Coastal Resources Advisory Council and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund on July 31. The terms of all but four members of the Coastal Resources Commission, or CRC, ended as well.
“Right now we don’t have a commission,” said Bob Emory, one of the remaining four members of Coastal Resources Commission and its former chair. “If we needed to do something at this point we couldn’t. We don’t have a quorum.”
Getting new members up to speed once they’re appointed will be the biggest challenge, Emory said. “We’ve had turnover in the past,” he said, “but never anything like this.”
Emory said he hopes that some of the members whose terms were ended will be reappointed in part to help keep several reports and studies mandated by the General Assembly on track. Major work on new development policies for inlets and a new report to the legislature on sea-level rise are among the projects still in the pipeline. “None of these are simple,” Emory said.
The accelerated turnover was a contentious issue between proponents in the Senate and more cautious House members for most of the session. In the end, senators advocating for a clean slate got most of what they wanted, except a compromise pushed by coastal legislators in the House to preserve the four seats on the CRC. The bill also changes the size and composition of the commissions and advisory council and eliminates designated areas of expertise and geography for some slots.
Among the changes are:
- Environmental Management Commission — Membership drops from 19 to 15. Nine members are appointed by the governor, three by the speaker of the House and three by the president pro tem of the Senate.
- Coastal Resources Commission — Membership drops from 15 to 13. Four sitting members are retained through July 31, 2015: Emory of New Bern, Renee Cahoon of Nags Head, Lee Wynns of Colerain and Ben Simmons of Fairfield. Nine members are appointed by the governor, two by the speaker of the House and two by the president pro tem of the Senate. The chair is appointed by the governor.
- Coastal Resources Advisory Council — Drops from 45 members to 20 and no longer requires the membership to represent state departments and local governments. All members are appointed at-large by a vote of the Coastal Resources Commission, though local governments send to the CRC a list of preferred candidates. At least half of the membership must be coastal residents.
- Clean Water Management Trust Fund — The budget revamps the fund’s mission and places the agency under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. It also terminates all 21 sitting board members and sets up a new nine-member board with three appointments each by the governor, speaker and president pro-tem.
So far the only appointees were made in a late session appointments bill. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger appointed two members of the CRC, two members of the EMC and three members of the trust fund board of trustees. House Speaker Thom Tillis appoint two EMC members, three members of the trust fund board and no members of the CRC.
For now, the composition of the boards and commissions are mostly an unknown.
Last week, a spokesperson with the governor’s office said possible candidates were being reviewed, but did not have a timetable for when they might be announced. As of Friday, no appointments had been announced, and the office declined to offer an estimate on when appointments would be made. The speaker’s office did not respond to an inquiry on future appointments.
Caswell Beach Mayor Harry Simmons said he hadn’t anticipated serving on the Coastal Resources Commission until he was asked to consider it by Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick. Berger appointed him to the commission.
Simmons, who has served on the Coastal Resources Advisory Council for a decade, said he shouldn’t have too much trouble moving into his new role. “I have a pretty good feel for the issues,” said Simmons, who has served as mayor since 1999.
He said he supported keeping the four holdover positions on the CRC, but added it will be hard to predict the direction of the new commission until the rest of the appointments are made.
Although he’s been a long-time advocate for beach re-nourishment and supports building terminal groins at inlets, Simmons said he comes to the board with an open mind and no agenda.
“You listen to all sides and do what is in the best interest for the state,” he said.
For Joan Weld one of the CRC members whose appointment ended abruptly at the end of July, the wholesale changes in the key environmental committees are a worrisome sign.
Weld, who served as vice-chair of the CRC and was the designated appointee to the seat set aside for conservation interests, said she did not take the elimination of her seat personally.
“I had no illusion I would be reappointed,” she said. “I don’t think it was a good sign to take away the only conservation seat.”
The designated areas of expertise were intended to bring a wide range of views to the table, Weld said.
“A lot will depend on what kind of appointments are made, but given the current climate I may not hold out great hope we’ll have the same kind of diversity.”
Another area of worry is the loss of designated representatives of local governments on the Coastal Resources Advisory Council, the positions she said not only provided local input but helped inform their communities about complicated policies.
Taken together, Weld said the concern is that the positions on the commissions and other boards intended to be the voice of residents and of the people who love the coast will be lost to those with financial interests and “people who can afford to play the game.”
“I don’t want to see it turn into New Jersey,” she said. “We have long understood that the coast be for everyone.”
New appointees include:
- Environmental Management Commission — (Berger appointees) David W. Anderson of Johnston County, Steve Tedder of Stokes County, (Tillis appointees) Clyde E. “Butch” Smith of Cleveland County, Benne C. Hutson of Mecklenburg County, Charles Carter of Wake County.
- Coastal Resources Commission — (Berger appointees) Harry Simmons, mayor of Caswell Beach, Captain Marc Hairston of Onlsow County.
- CWMTF Board of Trustees — (Berger appointees) Robin S. Hackney of New Hanover County, Johnny D. Martin of Wake County, William Toole of Gaston County, (Tillis Appointees) Kevin W. Markham of Wake County, J. Frank Bragg of Mecklenburg County, Charles E. Vines of Mitchell County.