Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 8, 2014

FY2015 Budget Notes – and a comment on political patronage

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 2:26 pm

FY2015 Budget Notes – and a comment on political patronage

The first round of the City Council’s FY2015 Budget hearings took barely more than 3 hours today. After a brief (and accurate) statement by Councillor Craig Kelley opposing a proposal to convert the personal assistants for individual councillors into full-time (patronage) jobs, the only departments to have their budgets pulled for further discussion were: (1) Law Department, (2) Information Technology, (3) Public Celebrations, (4) Traffic, Parking & Transportation, (5) Inspectional Services, and (6) License Commission. Most of the inquiries from councillors were brief, and much of the commentary was more like expressions of thanks for how well these departments operate.

The FY2015 Budget Book lists 2 full-time staff positions for the City Council, but the City Council budget includes $1,386,180 to cover the salaries of the city councillors and their aides. These personal aide jobs first appeared in 2006 as part-time positions (without benefits) within the Mayor’s Office budget, but were later shifted to the City Council budget. From the start, almost all of these the jobs were given to individuals connected to the political campaigns of the councillors. Only Councillor Kelley has resisted the patronage urge and operates without a personal aide.

This topic was the first matter discussed at the Government Operations Committee meeting on Tues, May 6. The recommendation of the committee was never really in doubt – of course they want to grant themselves additional political privilege (at taxpayer expense). The City Council apparently is choosing to ignore the fact that the Plan E Charter explicitly says that the City Council can hire exactly 3 positions: City Manager, City Clerk, and City Auditor. Some will argue that it is not the councillors who are appointing the aides, but the councillors choose them, and it’s inconceivable that City staff would ever deny any councillor their personal choice. There are no public postings for these positions, and none of them are subject to the usual range of requirements of other City employees.

It’s always entertaining (and equally aggravating) to hear councillors testify about how much work they do and how they absolutely need more and more staff. So many birthday resolutions, so little time. By the way, almost all of the current group of councillors have other jobs, so most are drawing two salaries. I suppose this explains why they feel the need for additional staff, but an equally good argument can be made for having their salaries cut in half in order to cover the cost of people to write all those birthday resolutions (which would bring them more in line with comparable positions in other cities and towns in the area).

Political privilege is like entropy. It always increases. – Robert Winters


  1. There’s no need for personal aide positions, as councilors in years past went without personal aides and did just fine.

    If a councilor wanted to hire a personal aide using his/her personal funds, that would be acceptable.

    Comment by Philip Michael Mitza — May 9, 2014 @ 11:47 am

  2. Being a City Councillor in Cambridge is MUCH more a full-time job than it was in years past.

    Comment by Joseph Aiello — May 10, 2014 @ 6:11 pm

  3. Perhaps you’re just being facetious, but anyone who feels that being a city councillor is a full-time job should get an actual full-time job. I’ll grant that a new councillor with minimal experience may need more time to acclimate, but maybe we should ask, in the name of transparency, that all councillors submit time sheets detailing all the ribbon-cuttings, research into birth and death resolutions, and other essential tasks.

    Comment by Robert Winters — May 10, 2014 @ 6:53 pm

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