Editorial: DEQ's van der Vaart needs to exit, even if it's not graceful

Posted January 5

Secretary of Environmental Quality Donald van der Vaart

A CBC Editorial: Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017; Editorial# 8106
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

Donald van der Vaart, the self-demoting former N.C. Department of Environmental Quality secretary, is proving that he can dish it out, but can’t take it himself.

While he saw the need two years ago to have people around him in step with his vision and policy goals, he doesn’t feel Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper deserves the same.

Just as he was being informed by Cooper that his services would no longer be needed van der Vaart, who’s been very publicly campaigning for a job in President-elect Donald Trump’s administration, made sure he gave himself a comfortable landing within his own agency. He also made sure he was where he’d be able to subvert and thwart the new administration’s mission.

He and his top deputy, John Evans, demoted themselves into non-political jobs in DEQ’s Air Quality Division. Essentially, they’re attempting to protect themselves from being fired or reassigned at will – which might have happened if they’d stayed in their old Gov. Pat McCrory administration jobs.

The irony is that when van der Vaart became the agency’s secretary in January 2015, he moved with a quick and heavy hand to clear out key people and made room for his choices. Top department officials “stepped down” from their posts – including Assistant Secretary for Environment Mitch Gillespie and Brad Ives, assistant secretary for natural resources.

Van der Vaart’s relatively brief tenure at the helm of the department has been marked more by controversy and dissension than accomplishment. The coal ash disposal issue, sparked by the Dan River spill before he came into office, remains unresolved. A bitter dispute over the wording of warnings connected with potentially unsafe well water ignited into accusations of lying under oath and resignations in protest. He has sought to thwart the development of renewable energy, including solar, one of the state’s top economic growth bright spots.

Why the desperation in Van der Vaart’s self-reassignment? Both his and Evans’ significant tenure with the state already likely give them employee rights to other assignments.

If van der Vaart and his close associates’ goals are to distract the attention and subvert the operations of the agency they once headed, they can already claim “mission accomplished.”

Cooper has put interim department leaders in place and they should be devoting their full attention to positioning the agency to effectively carryout the mandates and initiatives of the new administration. Instead, thanks to van der Vaart’s “self-demotion,” they are distracted by the petty personnel games.

It is unfortunate and lacks class. It reveals that van der Vaart is less concerned with the best interests of North Carolina and more with fomenting internal mayhem and looking out for what’s best for him.

If Cooper’s administration leaders can figure out a way to fire van der Vaart, they need to do it. If he wants, let him sue. Send the lawyers’ bill to the General Assembly, where there seems to be no shortage of legal defense funds.


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  • Chad Stinner Jan 5, 2017
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    This simply puts him in a position that he can sue when fired.

    What did he actually accomplish in this job? The article does highlight the really bad.

  • Holly Atkins Jan 5, 2017
    user avatar

    We are a right to work state...he can still be fired. And yet they wonder why we don't trust them.