Commentary

Editorial: Hypocritical former DEQ chief should be fired

Donald van der Vaart

Donald van der Vaart

One of this morning’s best editorials comes from Capitol Broadcasting Company/WRAL.com and it concerns the outrageous actions of former state Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Donald van der Vaart. As you may recall from NC Policy Watch reporter Lisa Sorg’s story from last week, van der Vaart’s actions of late have been quite extraordinary.

After spending more than a year heading DEQ (formerly the Department of Environment and Natural Resources) and doing pretty much everything in his power to undermine the agency’s mission (including shamelessly standing up for polluting industries against reasonable environmental regulations), van der Vaart capped off his disastrous tenure by — we are not making this up — demoting himself to a protected agency job wherein he would be protected from being replaced by the incoming Cooper administration.

This is from the CBC/WRAL editorial:

“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.”

And here’s the conclusion:

“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.”

And if the Cooper people can’t formally get rid of van der Vaart (and Evans), it may be time for a new job reassignment in which both men get dispatched to out-of-the-way corners of the state to monitor air quality or perhaps the runoff from coal ash ponds.

Click here to read the rest of the editorial.

2 Comments


  1. Gene Hoglan

    January 5, 2017 at 9:49 am

    His interview with Trump didn’t go over too well (perhaps word got to them that he’s not exactly a team player), so this was a last-minute desperation move to keep a paycheck coming in. It’s odd for a guy with his background that he couldn’t immediately line up a make-work gig at the American Petroleum Institute or one of our other fine industry-funded science-denial outfits.

  2. Stewart Riley

    January 5, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    It seems to me that Cooper should be able to fire van der Vaart for violation of the State Government Ethics Act (§ 138A) and specifically § 138A-40, which prevents a “covered person” (like the head of a department) from hiring, transferring into, etc., any related person for a government position under their control. Van der Vaart has clearly done this, in that he transferred himself into a position under his control. He’s also more than likely violated § 138A-31 by using his position for private gain (his future salary as a protected employee) by giving himself a position that will continue his gain when this would not have occurred without his actions.

    Cooper should move against him (and his deputy) immediately on those grounds and dare van der Vaart to sue.

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