Jan 11, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights
This is the first regular meeting of the 2010-11 City Council term, and the new Council begins with a relatively clean slate as the much of the detritus of Councils past has been allowed to expire. The first order of (unfinished) business is the election of a mayor. The first attempt on January 4 resulted in a highly fractured vote, but it is expected that votes will shift on the second ballot and any subsequent ballots. Multiple factors are at play including (a) the news from the grapevine that Marjorie Decker will be having a State Senate campaign event in Saugus on January 31 – an apparent sign that she intends to pursue the Galluccio seat; (b) the commitments for the first mayoral ballot have now been expended; (c) feedback from political supporters in the wake of the January 4 ballot may cause a councillor or two to think twice about the political fallout; and (d) nobody really wants this to go on very long with the resultant delay in Council business caused by the lack of any appointments to City Council subcommittees by the new mayor. Most of the speculation centers on either Henrietta Davis or David Maher being best positioned to pick up the necessary 5th vote, but the continued meetings and wheeling and dealing and political hardball yields no certainty in the outcome.
As far as the rest of the meeting agenda goes, here are a few items of interest:
RECONSIDERATION. Councillor Kelley filed Reconsideration on the vote taken on Dec 21, 2009 confirming the appointments transmitted on a communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as Commissioners of the Cambridge Housing Authority: Anthony Pini (term expires 4/1/2014) and Gerald Clark (term expires 1/11/2015) [Dec 21, 2009 motion of Councillor Kelley to Table failed 4-5-0. Appointments confirmed 8-1-0. Councillor Kelley filed Reconsideration.]
Though I don’t pretend to understand all the intense passion expressed about these appointments and the behind-the-scenes push to change the vote late in the December 21 meeting to approve these appointments, it is worth noting that this is precisely the reason why state law and Robert’s Rules of Order allow for reconsideration of votes. Many outspoken public housing advocates had gone home on December 21 after this matter had been tabled and were shocked to learn that this changed late in the meeting. Expect some spirited public comment on this matter regardless how the final vote goes.
Order # 1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City department heads and personnel in order to determine alternatives to laying off the five employees from the Lead Safe Cambridge program. Councillor Simmons
This Order is noteworthy primarily in that it seems to direct the City Manager what to do in a personnel matter. It would be one thing if the Order focused on the importance of preserving the Lead-Safe program, but this Order instead is all about retaining five employees. Presumably, all of these employees have the opportunity to respond to any internal or public postings for City jobs. The City Council Order seems to say that the Manager should retain these employees in their current jobs regardless of need or budgetary concerns. Does this not seem like micromanagement from a city councillor?
Order #4. City Council concerns regarding House Bill 4410 which would give new powers to state and local school officials to turn around under-performing schools and increase the number of charter schools. Councillor Davis and Councillor Maher
The sponsors of the Order seem to agree with the Legislature on (1) reducing the financial impact of charter schools on regular public schools; (2) better processes for evaluating and approving charter schools; and (3) amendments that would help turn around underperforming schools. However, the sponsors express opposition to amendments that would (1) weaken proposed management powers or enhance the ability of unions to block action by school districts; (b) require municipalities and school districts to sell or lease surplus school facilities to charter schools; (3) new spending mandates on cities, towns and school districts; and (4) lifting the cap on charter schools. Councillor and State Representative Toomey may have something to say in response to this Order. H4410 passed by a 119-35 vote. The Senate approved a different version and a 6-member House-Senate conference committee is now working on a compromise of the two versions.
According to my reading of the City Council materials, the only holdover items from the previous Council are these:
(1) Council Kelley’s Reconsideration of the Cambridge Housing Authority appointments.
(2) The Fanning Petition to rezone an area in East Cambridge.
(3) A December Order regarding increasing the amount of public information about elections while the municipal election is in progress.
(4) A December Order and a committee report regarding the City Council’s policy on naming street corners.
(5) A request to the City Manager for information regarding what barriers would prevent residents from raising chickens and what could be done to remove these barriers.
Also in the pipeline – a scattered set of recommendations from December’s “Climate Congress” which will have a follow-up City Hall meeting on January 23. Unlike an actual legislative process where most proposals require majority support, the current draft of these citizen recommendations reads like a laundry list of every imaginable idea in environmental regulation and social engineering. Many of the ideas presented will be dead on arrival such as the proposal to increase the cost of a residential parking sticker every year for the next 20 years – even though most participants seemed to agree that the local impact of automobiles on climate was far less than things like poorly insulated and inefficient commercial, residential, and institutional buildings. A strong theme at this gathering was the need to better quantify the primary contributors to climate change before setting priorities or determining policies and initiatives. Nonetheless, the draft recommendations are dominated by proposals made without any such prioritization. It’s worth looking at for a few good ideas, but this document leaves a lot to be desired as either a legislative agenda or a blueprint for change. – Robert Winters