Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

December 3, 2012

The Apprentice, starring Richard Rossi – Dec 3, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:34 am

The Apprentice, starring Richard Rossi – Dec 3, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Everything else on the agenda pales in comparison to:

Rich RossiOrder #6: That the City Council appoint Richard C. Rossi as City Manager of the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts beginning on July 1, 2013 for a period of three years ending on June 30, 2016.   Councillor Maher, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Reeves, Councillor Toomey, Mayor Davis and Councillor Decker

Though some of the usual suspects are throwing fits about this sudden turn of events, it is neither surprising nor unwelcome. The only surprising thing about the City Council taking this action is how quickly they chose to do so. Several weeks ago I wrote on this page, "I would not be at all surprised if the whole process falls apart by next summer and 5 councillors just make a motion from the floor to hire someone they like." My estimate was perhaps a bit too cautious. The City Council should be congratulated for their wisdom and their decisiveness. The goal-setting and soul-searching will proceed as planned. This important crossroads in the life of the city will be more like a bend in the road, and that’s a good thing. The next steps for Kendall Square and Central Square are on the horizon, and it will be helpful to have competent city management firmly established as these waters are navigated.

Rich Rossi has been Deputy City Manager for decades. If serving as an apprentice prepares someone for a job, then there is no question that Rich is the most qualified person for this job at this time. An expensive intergalactic search could have been conducted, but it’s hard to imagine there being another candidate as well-prepared for the job and who knows Cambridge as thoroughly. As Bob Healy said several months ago, "He’s the best athlete in the draft."

Elsewhere on the agenda, there are these:

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-88, regarding a report on how the City plans to maintain grade separated bikeways and keep them free from sand, branches and other debris.

The report states, "Grade separate bikeways are being swept clear of debris at least as frequently as residential street sweeping, monthly from April through December. The City sweeps these areas more frequently, if time permits. During the winter months, cycle tracks are cleared of snow and ice as soon as practicable." For the proposed Western Avenue sidewalk track, it will lie precisely where winter snow is normally piled, and where rubbish and recycling will be set out for curbside collection. It is unlikely that salt or other substance will be spread on the sidewalk to keep the lane free of ice. Even if miraculously the track is kept clear, the number of poor-visibility intersections will make this boondoggle an adventure. It will also reduce cycling speeds and mobility, and the narrowed road lanes will be less safe for those of us who choose to travel in the road (as we do on every other street).

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the impact the recently passed medical marijuana referendum might have on Cambridge and provide any suggested zoning or local ordinance changes relevant to this new law.   Councillor Kelley

Many cities and towns in Massachusetts are now grappling with how this will be managed, and Cambridge is no exception. Zoning laws were originally designed to manage the conflicting interests of residents, businesses, and industry, but they are now used (rightly or wrongly) to dictate almost to a microscopic level what may or may not exist in every zoning district. It will be interesting to see what efforts will now be made to monkeywrench the result of the recent referendum. Where would you want this use permitted?

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Oct 3, 2012 to discuss the zoning petition filed by Patty Chen, et al. to amend the Zoning Ordinance in Section 20.300 Central Square Overlay District in Section 20.304.5 Use Limitations and Restrictions.

This is the zoning petition that would modify Section 20.300 to allow clubs to have an entrance on a portion of Prospect Street (and not just on Massachusetts Avenue or Main Street). This is a sensible modification that does not overreach what is needed to allow the All-Asia to relocate to its proposed new location on Prospect Street. The new name of the club was originally supposed to be Valhalla, but it is now being reported that it will instead be called the Prospect Lounge. Shades of the old Prospect Buffet that used to grace the east side of that formerly tough stretch of road.

On a related note, the Central Square Advisory Committee 2011/2012 just wrapped up its year-long process. The complete recommendations will have their initial presentation at the Planning Board on Tuesday (Dec 4). The members of the Advisory Committee drafted a Memorandum from the Central Square Advisory Committee 2011/2012 on its Final Recommendations. It’s worth the read. – RW

Addendum – After much public comment and some heartfelt statements by councillors, the City Council voted 8-1 to approve Order #6 appointing Richard Rossi as City Manager to succeed Robert Healy beginning July 1, 2013. Only Councillor Kelley voted in the negative. After the vote, Richie gave a marvelous speech about growing up in Cambridge, of his priorities, and of his great appreciation for being given this opportunity. It was a great evening.

The Public Comment period was predictable with the usual suspects flinging criticism based on their indignance at not being consulted. Perhaps the lowest of the commentary came from Pebble Gifford who wanted the Council to amend the Order to have Mr. Rossi appointed as Interim City Manager or Acting City Manager. It’s really so thoughtful of the Hilliard Street upper crust to make sure that people know their place. – RW

The City Clerks and City Managers of Cambridge


  1. No fit here. I think Mr. Rossi deserves a clean process.

    In their effort to be decisive, at least six Councillors crafted an inadvertent violation of the Open Meeting Law. If the Council can appoint a new City Manager this way, they can decide anything in secret. It is a terrible precedent. It should be withdrawn, resubmitted in proper form (by less than 5 Councillors) and anyone involved in drafting the original should acknowledge it was discussed and decided improperly.

    Tom Stohlman

    Comment by Tom Stohlman — December 3, 2012 @ 8:10 am

  2. It is my understanding that Order #6 originally had 4 sponsors, and it may have been drafted by fewer than that. As with many Orders and Resolutions, it was circulated prior to the deadline for submission of agenda items and it picked up the other sponsors at that time. At no point was there a majority of councillors meeting and mutually drafting this Order. According to my interpretation of the Open Meeting Law, there is no violation here.

    I remember the days when there used to routinely be Orders filed with 4 or 5 or more sponsors. The fact that this now happens rarely says something about how fractured the current City Council has been. Perhaps things are now moving in a better direction.

    Comment by Robert Winters — December 3, 2012 @ 8:56 am

  3. And you have hit the nail right on the head: “It is my understanding that Order #6 had 4 sponsors and it may have been drafted by fewer than that.” Because this was done outside the public process, there is no way to know that.

    If that was the case, and the policy Order had 4 sponsors, then there is no violation. Passing an order around for consideration among the rest of the council before the meeting is fine too (as long as there is no discussion or decision made). But for a majority of the council to sign on and decide before the meeting is a violation.

    This may be the way it has always been done. If it wasn’t for the importance of the decision (and the publication of the full order in the CCJ), I may never have even noticed it. If any municipal legislation can get passed this way, I’m not sure what the purpose of the Open Meeting Law is, as anything could be discussed, passed around, and decided outside of the formal public meeting.

    In any case, I will followup with the State to see if my interpretation is correct. You’ll be the first to know what I find out.


    Comment by Tom Stohlman — December 3, 2012 @ 9:51 am

  4. I recall a time when the “serial meetings” interpretation was first made by then District Attorney Tom Reilly in response to an inquiry from the City Council after (I believe) 5 CCA-endorsed councillors introduced and passed something significant. If a majority of the City Council was meeting in groups of 3 or 4 as they drafted an Order or an Ordinance as a workaround to avoid an obvious Open Meeting violation, that would be problematic. I don’t believe this was the case here.

    I do remember witnessing serial meetings taking place for a major rezoning in Cambridgeport. There would be four city councillors in the Mayor’s Office at any given time, and they would take turns stepping outside and having other councillors go in for the negotiations. There was a clear majority going in and out of the room.

    Comment by Robert Winters — December 3, 2012 @ 10:07 am

  5. Bob when did the Prospect Buffet close up?

    Comment by Fred Baker — December 3, 2012 @ 10:36 am

  6. I believe the Buffet attempted to clean up its act sometime around 1993 or 1994, changed its name (I’m struggling to recall what the new name was), and increased the price of its pints of beer to appeal to a more upscale crowd. It didn’t work.

    The Field now occupies the space formerly occupied by the Prospect Buffet, and they’ve been there since around November 1994 (according to a Boston Globe review I just found).

    Comment by Robert Winters — December 3, 2012 @ 11:10 am

  7. Amen on your strong support for Mr. Rossi!

    Comment by bob metcalf — December 3, 2012 @ 4:27 pm

  8. I missed one in the City Council agenda:

    1. Councillor Kelley filed reconsideration of the vote taken on November 19, 2012 adopting an order that the Cambridge City Council go on record urging the members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee to pass MA Senate Bill 2314, “An Act Relative to Plastic Bag Reduction.”

    The matter was NOT reconsidered and the Order stands.

    Comment by Robert Winters — December 3, 2012 @ 7:27 pm

  9. There was supposed to be an open process with public involvement for hiring the next city manager after Bob Healy. The Council is hiring Mr. Rossi as the next city manager without having such a process. I agree that since the Council did not get its act together with such a “visioning” process before Mr. Healy announced his expected retirement, it would be good to have Mr. Rossi take the helm until we, as a city, decide who should be the leader. By hiring Mr. Rossi with a 3-year contract, we have eliminated hiring anyone else sooner, and would likely come up with fewer candidates of quality for a job that couldn’t be started until a year or more after being selected.

    Those desiring the status quo got what they wanted: the city council let the city machine (Bob Healy) decide the next city manager, then they just voted upon the city staff’s recommendation. Business as usual. Why do we need a city council?

    Comment by Mike — December 4, 2012 @ 12:05 pm

  10. The reason it was “the usual suspects” is that the sudden change in direction was too fast to filter down to the people who are not tightly linked to city governance, just as the councilors hoped.

    We were promised a public involvement process before selecting the next city manager. They voted on the next city manager, not an interim manager, before the public process. As good as Mr. Rossi may be, he was not selected in the spirit of democracy.

    Comment by Mike Nakagawa — December 4, 2012 @ 12:59 pm

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