Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

December 20, 2010

Dec 20, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights – One Less Chair

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 1:26 am

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

1 Comment

  1. I had to miss this one while laid up with a respiratory problem. It is odd about Toomey bugging out on the Ordinance Committee. I know that he has had a bee in his bonnet about the “package” on the EF zoning for a month or so. It may have to do with upcoming events concerning North Point. I think He’s worried that all the new traffic and people won’t be properly accommodated if there is not some hyper local application of mitigation, i.e. actual mitigation. He said that the rest of the Council (the seven) don’t want to consider North Point part of East Cambridge and want all the mitigation to go elsewhere. That pretty well describes your bald faced extortion scenario, as opposed to mitigation. I’m kinda irked too.

    Its a slightly complicated issue. My fellow East Cambridge rabble rousers and I have been working on this for years. Basically, with the lack of any reasonable urban planning and/or follow through thereon, what is a neighborhood to do? The great majority of Cambridge’s tax revenue comes from the commercial property in the eastern sections of the city. We think that there should be some attention paid in concrete terms to planning and building the community that hosts this urban density. Things like good road design, better integration with the rest of the city, real mixed use development, creation of civic and commercial spaces which will benefit the people who live here. That is how mitigation funds should be used. In Cambridge it is another mater. The whole “vision thing” is absent at the city level. That being the case, we ask for what we can get. It is a poor and usually adversarial process, but it’s the only game in this town right now.

    Comment by Mark Jaquith — December 21, 2010 @ 6:44 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress

%d bloggers like this: