Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

January 13, 2014

Setting the Table – January 13, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:30 am

Setting the Table – January 13, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

The City Council successfully elected David Maher as Mayor at its January 6 Inaugural meeting, but now the business of representation begins. The appointment of City Council subcommittees and their Chairs will likely be announced in two weeks, but there’s little doubt that some of the new councillors will try to assert themselves right away. Hopefully the twists and turns of the recent mayoral vote will fade quickly leaving only the spin of the blogosphere.

One observation I’ve recently made is that the current City Council committees don’t really match the skill sets of the elected councillors. The City Council and the Mayor should take a serious look at the committee structure and possible merge some of them and invent others to better take advantage of what these 9 councillors may have to offer.

Here are a few specific Agenda items worthy of attention:

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the new Nexus Study for Incentive Zoning Ordinance.

This communication simply informs the Council that the process is underway and that a consultant will soon be hired to conduct the study "to assess the impact of non-residential development on the City’s housing market." … "A nexus study establishes the basis for requiring contributions from commercial developments as set forth in the Incentive Zoning Provisions. The new study will quantify the current impact of new commercial development on housing affordability. Study recommendations could form the basis for changes to the Incentive Zoning Provisions."

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $16,100,824 in funds received from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) Grant to the Public Works Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures account for the Alewife Sewer Separation Program.

Mr. Rossi states: "This grant will fund the Concord Avenue construction costs, engineering services and final costs associated with the other Alewife area contracts…. The City has been working with the MWRA for over sixteen years executing projects in the Alewife watershed to reduce combined sewer overflows to the Alewife Brook. These improvements are part of the court-ordered cleanup of the Boston Harbor."

This is the real measure of a well-managed city – maintaining all of the things that allow a city to smoothly function, especially those things that would not otherwise receive any attention from those who see things only in political terms.

Applications & Petitions #3. An application was received from Whittemore Realty Trust requesting permission for three curb cuts at the premises numbered 12A-12B-12C Whittemore Avenue; said petition has received approval from Inspectional Services, Traffic, Parking and Transportation, Historical Commission and Public Works. Chair of neighborhood association disapproves the curb cuts and vice chair of the neighborhood association approves the curb cuts.

The entertaining part of this is that the Chair and Vice-Chair are husband and wife, so why wouldn’t they disagree? The ridiculous part is that the response states that "I know of no opposition to the curb cuts. The opposition relates to non curb cut matters."

Note to councillors, especially the new guys: The matter before you is a curb cut application. Anything not relating to the curb cut application should affect your vote about as much as your preference in music or beer.

Resolution #19. Resolution on the death of Beatrice L. (Levy) Davis.   Mayor Maher

Beatrice Davis was the mother of our recent Mayor Henrietta Davis.

Order #2. That the City Council go on record expressing support for fair wages and benefits for Cambridge’s adjunct professors, the right of Cambridge’s adjunct professors to form a union, and the adoption of free and fair union election principles, similar to those that have been adopted by many higher education institutions in other U.S. cities, which establish the commitment that workers are "free" to make up their own mind under "fair" voting conditions.   Councillor Cheung

This is a matter that affects quite a few people who live or work in and around Cambridge. Standards vary widely among the various institutions, departments, and programs. Whether or not the formation of a union is the right approach, there really should be some reasonable minimum standards. If our local universities can sign on to a "sustainability compact" they should also be more than willing to ensure a little economic sustainability among their part-time and adjunct faculty. What exactly is the best way to achieve this is not so obvious, but the sentiment expressed in Council Cheung’s Order is a good one.

The next three items share a common thread:

Communication #7. A communication was received from Tom Stohlman, 19 Channing Street transmitting suggested changes to the Council rules.

Order #5. That the Mayor is requested to schedule a City Council/School Committee retreat in the near future to allow all of Cambridge’s municipal elected officials the opportunity to converse with each other and discuss shared priorities for this term.   Councillor Simmons

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting the action taken by the Cambridge City Council on an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Ilan Levy dated Dec 10, 2013.

First, I really don’t understand why Tom Stohlman has chosen to appoint himself "hall monitor" for the Cambridge City Council. The Council rules work reasonably well and I believe there are some adults among our newly elected representatives who can decide how best to conduct their meetings. I actually agree with Mr. Stohlman’s first suggestion that the School Committee and the Mayor might consider a new custom of having the Mayor not necessarily act as Chair of the School Committee (just as the Vice President of the USA does not customarily act as President of the Senate even though this is what the Constitution states).

Mr. Stohlman’s second suggestion (that the City Council should discuss who should be Mayor) is now a moot point, though I’m sure that many such discussions took place prior to last week’s mayoral vote. The matter of what the Mayor of Cambridge actually does has been discussed forever by both elected and unelected people. I seriously doubt whether any new revelations will be forthcoming. I’ll not comment on the remaining laundry list of suggestions from Mr. Stohlman. It’s a mixed bag, but I especially don’t care for his later suggestions that would turn every public hearing into a marathon.

I’m curious what Mr. Stohlman and his fellow complaint-filing pals might have to say about Order #5. If there were a combined City Council/School Committee Retreat, would it have to be streamed live and a stenographic record kept of all that is said?

Finally, I take note of the latest response from the City Council and City Clerk to yet another tiresome complaint. There were, I believe, three such complaints filed during the last term. The first was from Tom Stohlman who disagreed with the City Council’s actions in the choice of City Manager. The only real error there was in the long-standing practice allowing councillors to sign on as co-sponsors on City Council Orders circulated independently by the City Clerk (without discussion). That protocol has now been modified. The second complaint was from Charles Teague who objected to the MIT/Kendall zoning vote long after that matter had been put to bed. The latest (from Ilan Levy) is based only on speculation by the complainant regarding the disposition of the Foundry Building in East Cambridge.

I really hope that civic participation during the next few years is characterized more by discussion, cooperation, and understanding than by threats of legal filings with the Commonwealth whenever an action is taken with which one disagrees. A little more respect for the elected officials, the City administration, and the many people who work for the City is in order. In the end, most of our goals are the same. – Robert Winters


  1. Robert,

    We’re all hall monitors here and it seems odd that I’m being criticized by the City’s longest serving monitor. That’s the whole point of open government.

    You’ve made comments and drawn a number of conclusions from my rules suggestions and my Open Meeting Law complaint which I would disagree with:

    1) My suggestion for better public hearings should make them more manageable and shorter, not “turn them into a marathon”. How do I know this? Well, I’ve actually chaired public hearings and learned how to run them well. (Hint: Respect the public, and they will return the respect.)

    2) Order #5 (a retreat for the School Committee and City Council) is a great idea. And because they will be discussing municipal/school priorities, it should also be open to the public. You’ll have to ask the others in the Complaint-filing Pals Club* what they think.

    You also ask: “If there were a combined City Council/School Committee Retreat, would it have to be streamed live and a stenographic record kept of all that is said?” The answer is no.

    3) You insinuate that I filed my Open Meeting Law complaint because I disagreed with the result. The record and your own website show that to be false.

    Just to be clear, I filed my OML Complaint because I disagreed with the City Council procedures and felt they were in serious violation of the law. I warned the Council before their vote that they were in violation of the Open Meeting Law. They proceeded anyway.

    The Attorney General’s office fully agreed with me and added that the Council’s minutes were also in violation of the law. The last Council could not resolved that problem and left it to the new Council to iron out.

    *4) Your call for respect rings hollow when you engage in name calling.

    Hall Monitor Stohlman

    Comment by Tom Stohlman — January 13, 2014 @ 8:43 am

  2. It would valuable and interesting if in future Mayoral elections each person who wants to be Mayor made a brief speech to their fellow councillors and the public about what they want to be the priorities for their Mayorship and why they are qualified for the job. It might downplay the drama a bit (or not) and would let the public know a bit more about each of the candidates. That could be a rule change, or just an informal understanding (although I’d recommend against that).

    Comment by John Gintell — January 13, 2014 @ 11:23 am

  3. I posted comment #2 above before reading Tom’s Communication who also proposed a similar thing.

    Comment by John Gintell — January 13, 2014 @ 11:26 am

  4. The choice of mayor by our city councillors is primarily about who they would like as their Chair. Much of the criteria in that choice is based on interpersonal qualities, and I seriously doubt whether that would factor into any public presentation. It might become pretty uncomfortable if this were otherwise.

    It’s far more important than anything else that the mayor be able to work cooperatively with city councillors. In most of the Cambridge mayoral elections I’ve witnessed, this was a prime factor in who they ultimately selected. This is not a job interview for a skilled typist.

    Comment by Robert Winters — January 13, 2014 @ 3:54 pm

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