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Columbia Missourian

Columbia's Environment and Energy Commission considers change to name, mission

By Benjamin Unglesbee
December 21, 2011 | 6:38 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — What’s in a name? This was Juliet's question for Romeo, and it was a question before Columbia’s Environment and Energy Commission at its Tuesday night meeting.

The commission is among those flagged for change in City Manager Mike Matthes' report on Columbia's boards and commissions.

The report calls for restructuring some commissions and eliminating others. Under the report's plan, the Environment and Energy Commission would become the Sustainability Commission.

Just what the name change would mean, no one at Tuesday’s meeting knew for sure.  It was precisely this unknown that members discussed.

"What if we were the Sustainability Commission?" board member Lawrence Lile asked the group rhetorically.

Commission members reached no formal consensus on the name change or their recommendations concerning the report. Nor do they have a set date for responding to the City Council's request for input regarding the report. 

Commission chair Karl Skala said the Environment and Energy Commission has historically wielded considerable influence in Columbia under its existing name.

"People know our name, so I'm reluctant" to make any changes, Skala said.

Lile echoed this sentiment. "In the last few years that I’ve been on this committee we've been really effective. … Maybe we want to keep the name, just because we've established some credibility," he said

The report recommends a restructuring of the commission along with the name change.

This would include collaborating with the Historic Preservation Committee and the Bicycle Pedestrian Commission, the latter of which would not exist in name under the new plan.

The idea that the commission, by its current or any other name, team up with the Historic Preservation Committee originated with Barbara Buffaloe, manager of Columbia's Office of Sustainability.

And the name Sustainability Commission?

"That came from me," Buffaloe said Wednesday.

As the city staff liaison to the commission, she submitted her recommendations to the city manager and city clerk for the report that came before the council Monday.

Buffaloe said the name change itself was not important to her. "I'll be staff liaison for whatever they're called, whatever they're doing," she said.

The important thing, Buffaloe added, is that the commission include sustainability issues in its formal description.

Skala raised this matter at Tuesday's meeting. He and other members agreed that sustainability issues be added to the commission's formal mission statement, since the commission already addresses sustainability in its activities.

"I have nothing against sustainability. … I am not opposed to taking on any more responsibilities," Skala said.

Skala also suggested after Tuesday’s meeting, however, that renaming or "rebranding" the commission could actually limit the its scope.

"We can get too narrow," he said, by defining the commission in terms of "sustainability," when in its present form the Environment and Energy Commission deals with a wide range of issues, including sustainability.

Skala reiterated that the commission is a "relatively powerful group." While the council will have the final say on any name or organizational changes, Skala at present is wary of recommending a name change.

"I don’t want to rebrand it," he said.