Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The Health & Environment Committee will be split into two three-member panels, one to oversee community health and the other for the environment, the Government Operations & Rules Committee decided Thursday.

The action went through 4-0, shrugging off a clash at the Monday meeting of the City Council that may yet raise parliamentary issues; officially, the decision to let Government Operations determine the split never went through.

But there was precedent for such decisions being made “by fiat of the mayor,” city political watcher Robert Winters told the committee. Although there are rules about the number of members, he noted there was a “change in composition of committees in 2000, a clear change in rules. That was done without any Government Operations committee process leading up to it. It was done by discretion of the mayor and subject to the approval of the Rules Committee.”

Much of the 11-person, 20-minute meeting concerned what to call the committee handling environmental issues — mainly whether to include the term “sustainability.” Most of the attendees, Winters and climate congress leader John Pitkin among them, said it was of little importance.

Because councillor and vice mayor Henrietta Davis will lead the Environment Committee and Cable TV, Telecommunications & Public Utilities Committee, it also was considered of little importance to have “energy” in the title.

Having two committees was important, they said.

“”It makes a tremendous amount of sense to have it structured this way, and I support it,” Pitkin said. In addition to all the work awaiting an Environment Committee in looking at the suggestions of the climate congress, “there may be some major issues on the health care front because of health care reform.”

Toomey had mentioned Monday the significant changes that may hit the Cambridge Health Alliance with health insurance reform being signed into law.

Councillor Craig Kelley, who raised objections Monday to this meeting, said it was an “ad hoc” way to approach a system that may need a major overhaul. “I think this is a bad idea, but I’m not a voting member of this committee,” he said.

“Duly noted,” Davis said, laughing.

Toomey said he had no problem looking into consolidating less active committees or otherwise changing parts of the system that were working poorly, but “the timing of this is important,” he said. “It’s almost April and we have had no committee meetings.”

Toomey, Davis, Leland Cheung and Sam Seidel voted in favor of Mayor David Maher’s proposed split while stripping “sustainability” from the title of the Environment Committee. Marjorie Decker, the fifth member of Government Operations & Rules, will lead the Community Health Committee.