Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 19, 2009

October 19, 2009 City Council Agenda highlights

Filed under: City Council — Robert Winters @ 2:01 pm

Oct 19, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights

Tonight’s agenda is relatively light, but there are a few notable items. In the weeks immediately preceding a municipal election, you can usually expect to see some effects of the campaign bleeding their way into the City Council agenda. Often this takes the form of a zoning petition carefully timed to come to a final vote immediately prior to the election, though this is not the case this year. Issues at the core of a challenger’s campaign which become topics at candidate forums can also pop up within City Council orders as the incumbents try to steal some thunder. One such example is Order #15 addressing the Council/Manager balance of power that has been beaten to death at candidate forums. Here are a few items that stood out:

Communication #5. A communication was received from Kathy Podgers, transmitting information on how stress makes allergies worse and last longer.

Though clearly irrelevant to the City Council or the business of the City of Cambridge, this letter highlights the ongoing grudge by Ms. Podgers directed toward Councillor Decker growing out of a City Council meeting a few years ago at which the presence of Ms. Podgers guide dog caused a substantial allergic reaction by Councillor Decker (who was pregnant at the time and unable to take anti-allergy medication) forcing her to leave the meeting early. My only comment is that the civic environment can only be diminished when people resort to lawsuits and personal vendettas instead of acceptable compromise. Besides, if a resident/candidate wants to take issue with an incumbent city councillor, there are better, more adult ways of doing so. This letter stinks of passive aggression.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor to report back to the City Council with a legal opinion on whether or not listing public notices on the City website could fulfill the obligation of the City to publish legal notices.   Councillor Toomey

See comments entitled “Putting the Paper to Bed.”

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council if any residents are in danger of losing their housing due to the fiscal status of affordable housing providers in Cambridge.   Vice Mayor Seidel

I periodically wonder about questions such as this. The City has now worked collaboratively on many housing projects with companies like Just-A-Start, Homeowner’s Rehab, and CASCAP. As buildings age and the economic and political landscape shifts, how secure can the City’s “housing policy” be when so much of it is in the hands of agencies that are influenced by the City but not really under the control of any City department? Perhaps it’s better this way – almost a privatization of City housing policy. However, a day may come when some of these agencies will have costs that exceed their revenues. What then? Can they sell off some of their buildings to cover the rest?

Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to submit to the City Council a request for an appropriation sufficient to enable the City Council to undertake academic or legal counsel to review the Plan E Charter.   Councillor Reeves

O-15     Oct 19, 2009
ORDERED: That the Mayor and Cambridge City Council shall seek independent academic or legal counsel to review the Plan E Charter for the purpose of a clear and definitive explanation of the role and power of the City Council and the role and power of the City Manager before mid-December; and be it further
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to submit to the City Council a request for an appropriation to the City Council Office Budget sufficient to enable the City Council to undertake this consultation on this timetable.

I’ve never seen the matter of the Council/Manager balance of power as particularly complicated or difficult to understand. The City Council passes ordinances, approves budgets, and determines overall policies (Orders) for the Manager to implement. The Manager submits an annual budget and oversees all of the operational details necessary to run the City government and implement City Council policies, including the hiring and management of all City personnel. If a majority of the City Council decides that the Manager is not properly doing his job, they can show him the door.

There is, of course, the reality that the long tenure of a Manager will tend to strengthen the hand of the Manager, but this is primarily due to the willingness of the City Council to go along with the wisdom gained by tenure. The flip side of this is that during the early years of a new Manager, the City Council will have the greater “wisdom” and the stronger hand. Such will be the case in just a few short years at the end of Robert Healy’s current contract, or sooner should he choose to retire earlier. Be careful what you wish for! Will this City Council be up to the challenge when the pendulum swings? To some, including this observer, this is a serious factor in sorting out the challengers as well as the incumbents. I’m not so sure that we now have nine who can choose a new Manager let alone manage their new Manager.

Is Reeves’ Order really asking a question or is he merely trying to shift the balance during an election in which some challengers have chosen to make the City Manager an issue? Is this just another page in the ongoing saga of last year’s Monteiro decision and this year’s Great Gates Case that have made their way into Reeves’ statements at candidate forums? Is it really necessary to obtain a budget for legal and academic consultation on this? My understanding is that Mr. Reeves has a Harvard law degree. Surely he can answer his own question as well as anyone. — Robert Winters

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