Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

March 19, 2012

Getting Down to Business – Mar 19, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Getting Down to Business – Mar 19, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

There can be little doubt that this meeting is the most serious meeting so far this year and possibly for this entire year. Front and center on the agenda is City Council Order #7, cosponsored by seven of the nine city councillors, calling for an extension of the City Manager’s contract (through mid-2013) and a commitment to begin consideration of how the process of succession might be conducted should this be the final contract extension for City Manager Robert W. Healy. There has been no recent public statement from Mr. Healy regarding his wishes for any additional contract extension, but a short-term extension like the one proposed seems consistent with statements made in recent years. It is noteworthy that seven of the nine city councillors had the good sense to grant a contract extension. The two councillors who did not sign on to this Order are Councillor Kelley (who has been a vocal opponent of Mr. Healy since long before his time as a councillor) and Councillor Reeves (speculation encouraged).
[Update: City Manager Robert Healy has now stated that he will retire at the end of this extended contract – in mid-2013.]
The relevant Order is this:

O-7     Mar 19, 2012
COUNCILLOR MAHER, COUNCILLOR CHEUNG, COUNCILLOR DECKER, VICE MAYOR SIMMONS, COUNCILLOR TOOMEY, MAYOR DAVIS, COUNCILLOR VANBEUZEKOM
WHEREAS: City Manager Robert Healy’s current employment contract with the City of Cambridge expires on Sept 30, 2012; and
WHEREAS: The contract contains a notification provision which needs action by the City Council or Mr. Healy on or before Mar 31, 2012; and
WHEREAS: As a result of Mr. Healy’s long tenure as City Manager, the City of Cambridge has not undertaken a search for a new City Manager for over thirty years; and
WHEREAS: It is imperative to the overall stability of the City of Cambridge that the City Council develop both a comprehensive short-term and long-term succession plan that will assist the City Council in their ongoing goal of providing fiscal stability and thoughtful strategic planning and any short-term plan should be in place before the FY 2014 budget process begins; now therefore be it
ORDERED: That the City Council amends the expiration date of the City Manager’s current employment contract to June 30, 2013 which coincides with the fiscal FY 2013 year-end; and be it further
ORDERED: That all other provisions of the employment contract remain unchanged; and be it further
ORDERED: That the City Council’s Government Operations and Rules Committee, with the assistance of the City Manager, begin the process of developing comprehensive short-term and long-term succession plans. Such plans shall include timelines and outline opportunities for input from the community including residents, businesses, institutions and City staff. Once developed, such plans shall be presented to the full City Council for final consideration.

Regardless whether any addition contract extensions occur in the future, there is wisdom in this City Council developing some kind of vision of how the City will one day, perhaps next year, make the difficult transition to a new City Manager after three decades of extraordinarily competent leadership. Let’s just hope that when the time comes this City Council or a future City Council is up to the task.

Elsewhere on the agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2012 and ending Mar 31, 2013.

The proposal is that the water and sewer rates remain unchanged for the coming year – the 2nd consecutive year of 0% increases. The future may not be as bright with projected water rate increases in the coming few years of 1.1%, 0.2%, 1.3%, and 2.0% but more significant projected sewer rate increases of 5.8%, 9.1%, 6.0%, and 10.2%. Sewer costs are currently about 72% of a typical water/sewer bill, so escalating sewer rates will have a significant impact down the road even as the water rates remain relatively stable.

On The Table #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a request from Boston Properties Limited Partnership ("Boston Properties") for the modification of two existing open space restriction covenants on buildings located at Four and Five Cambridge Center in connection with the creation of a new 47,000 square foot urban park and new open space restriction covenant for a net gain 28,853 square feet of public open space.

The proposal introduced several weeks ago by Boston Properties (to reduce the rooftop garden on the Kendall Square garage in exchange for greatly extending the agreement to maintain the garden and landscaping additional open space in the Kendall Square MXD District) was Tabled in order to allow more time for public process and, presumably, negotiation. Much of the public comment to date has been resoundingly negative, and there has been at least one proposal (from the East Cambridge Planning Team) to link any changes to the existing rooftop park to the provision of comparable space on adjacent buildings and a commitment to build the housing mandated by zoning guidelines. There are efforts to lure prize tenant Google away from Cambridge should this matter be long delayed, so there is some pressure on the City Council to resolve this soon and, hopefully, amicably for all affected parties.

Communications #3-32 and #36-111. A barrage of computer-generated petitions regarding the proposed reconfiguration of Community Schools programs associated with the temporary relocation of the King School and the programs housed therein.

It took me all of about a week to grow tired of the computer-generated communications that these "change.org" petitions produce – all identical lemming-like statements of dissatisfaction over whatever the flavor-of-the-week gripe happens to be. There are aspects of the proposed Community Schools reconfiguration worthy of discussion, but advocacy by the pound is thoroughly unappealing. Several well-considered letters from a few thoughtful individuals carry so much more weight than 76 sheep clicking "send" on a petition-generating website.

Much more entertaining are the following communications from the Odd Wizard of Franklin Street.

Communication #34. A communication was received from Peter Valentine regarding activity throughout the nation and territories where the national interests are involved.

Peter urges the following: To all True Americans from Peter Valentine, National Officer In Charge under the authority of a Constitutional State of "Imminent Danger That Will Not Admit Delay" 37 Brookline St., 3/9/2012. Orders that all governments in the United States of America be it Town, City, State or National implement a Department of Constitutional monitoring, investigation and corrective action to whatever degree necessary pertaining to any rights violations that a citizen believes a government may have perpetuated against a citizens’ constitutional rights. And further to all True Americans be it known that the National Officer In Charge is aware of all subversive activity throughout the nation and territories where the national interests are involved whether it be enemies who have infiltrated the government, the security forces or to undermine the security and well being of society in general. As Above, So Below. The term True American does not have to be defined because if you are a True American, You have The intelligence to Know What It Means.

Communication #113. A communication was received from Peter Valentine regarding the way to end all the world’s problems is for everyone to become creative instead of average and or despotic.

Peter urges the following: To all True Americans from The National Officer In Charge, under the authority of a "Constitutional State of Imminent Danger That Will Not Admit Delay", citizen Peter Valentine, 37 Brookline St. 3/11/2012. The Officer In Charge sends the Directive forward that the way to end all the world’s problems if for everyone to become Creative instead of Average and or Despotic.

Resolution #1. Retirement of Darleen G. Bonislawski from the Election Commission.   Mayor Davis

Darleen Bonislawski has served honorably as an Election Commissioner since 1988 (24 years). As one of the few residents who ever goes to meetings of the Election Commission, I’ll note that Darleen has been the most outspoken commissioner advocating for members of under-represented communities to register and to vote. Her successor must be appointed by April 1 from a list of three persons nominated by the Cambridge Democratic City Committee. Two of those nominees, Tom Stohlman and Larry Ward, are superb choices – either of whom would be an excellent choice to succeed Darleen.

Order #3. That the City Manager, in conjunction with the Community Development Department, is requested to investigate the improper leases and rental of owned affordable housing units.   Councillor Reeves

What a revelation. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the days of rent control when property owners were constrained in what they could legally charge for rent, but many tenants were earning great money (including a former mayor) and other tenants were subletting their rent-controlled apartments for substantially more than the maximum legal rent. I guess it just goes to show that we’re all good capitalists at heart. That includes many people in subsidized housing who are expert at being "poor on paper" in order to qualify for taxpayer-supported cheap housing, and apparently a few ultra-capitalists who are now using their taxpayer-supported housing as a tradable commodity. All Hail Marx and Lenin here in the Peoples Republic!

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Information Technology Department and the Government Operations and Rules Committee to look into the feasibility of recording all roll call votes online and report back to the Cambridge City Council.   Councillor Cheung

As the ultimate Council observer, I endorse this wholeheartedly. It does, however, seem rather odd that the City is so enslaved and choked by its own technology that the IT Department is required when all that is needed is a simple annotation indicating how people voted. This is already done for some items voted by the City Council. – Robert Winters

1 Comment

  1. On the vote to extend the City Manager’s contract, there were two predictable things prior to the 6-3 vote to extend the contract. Councillor Kelley’s negativity was predictable, and Mr. Reeves was just as predictable in making this all about race – even going so far as to connect this to The Great Gates Affair.

    Less predictable was Councillor vanBeuzekom’s unexpected change to a NO vote even though she was a cosponsor of the Order. In spite of being quite impressive as a new councillor, on this matter she bordered on incoherent in her explanation for her change of heart. It would seem that the politics of playing to specific constituencies is very much at play in both her vote as well as the vote of Mr. Reeves.

    Hats off to Councillors Cheung, Decker, Maher, Simmons, Toomey, and Mayor Davis for their consistency and for the honesty of their vote.

    Comment by Robert Winters — March 19, 2012 @ 9:13 pm

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