Dec 20, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights – One Less Chair
This is the last meeting of the year – marking the half-way point for this City Council term. What better way to celebrate this occasion than to stomp and pout and take your bat and ball and go home. To call the legislative tantrum thrown this week by Councillor Toomey adolescent would be generous. Specifically, there was a zoning petition from developer Rich McKinnon and Education First (EF Foundation) that came to a vote at last week’s City Council meeting along with a commitment of $914,000 in "mitigation" (gold, frankincense, myrrh?) to be donated by EF Foundation. Councillor Toomey had preferred to extract benefits specific to East Cambridge residents in exchange for a positive City Council vote. Instead, Mayor Maher and other councillors agreed to an arrangement where a rational process would be established by the City Manager to determine how the donated $914,000 would be distributed – a good idea that should have been the rule for other recent petitions that produced "mitigation" funds. The zoning amendment was approved 8-1 with Toomey emphatically voting NO.
The greater issue is the questionable practice of this City Council (or any other legislative body) using zoning relief essentially as currency to "buy" community benefits, but Toomey’s specific objection was to having an inclusive process established rather than the usual negotiated payouts (kind words for legislative shakedown) to individual councillors’ pet projects. In response, Toomey 1) quit as Co-chair of the Ordinance Committee, 2) filed an Order challenging the legitimacy of the tax-exempt status of Education First, and 3) filed another Order calling for a new Ordinance requiring hiring preferences for Cambridge labor union members on union-built projects within the city (including the EF Foundation project). Certainly one couldn’t blame other cities if they responded by making it much more difficult for those same Cambridge labor union members to work outside of Cambridge.
Order #1. That the City Manager confer with the City Assessor and report back with an opinion on the legitimacy of the tax exempt claim of Education First. Councillor Toomey
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor to draft a City ordinance which will give a priority to union Cambridge residents on union projects within the City of Cambridge. Councillor Toomey
Communications and Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from City Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., transmitting his formal resignation as Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee. (dated Dec 14, the morning after last week’s meeting)
The best course of action may be for Mayor Maher to leave Councillor Seidel as the sole Chair of the Ordinance Committee and not appoint a new Co-chair. The whole practice of having co-chairs of Council committees is relatively recent and not really justified in terms of either workload or complexity. There may have been some justification during the days of citywide or large-scale rezoning efforts, but it makes little sense now.
There’s not a whole lot more on this Agenda. Perhaps Councillor Kelley will again bring up Tabled Item #2 involving School Department clerical positions. Councillor Kelley has now moved to take it from the table four times without success – on May 10, 2010 (failed 2-7-0), Sept 13, 2010 (failed 4-4-1), Sept 27, 2010 (failed 3-5-1), and Dec 13, 2010 (failed 3-6-0). I suspect the kerfuffle between Councillors Kelley and Toomey over the legality of Councillors meeting privately with School Administration officials will also find its way into the speechmaking. That discussion has drawn other councillors into the fray as well for the last two Council meetings. [See Marc Levy’s write up of the Dec 6 meeting, and Brian Nanos’ article on the Dec 13 meeting in the Cambridge Chronicle. You might also want to read this one about last week’s zoning vote.]
"Peace on Earth, Good will Toward Men" – right? Maybe, maybe not. – Robert Winters