Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

January 11, 2010

Jan 11, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 1:10 pm

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

1 Comment

  1. Happy New Year – and aren’t we off to a great start?
    I’m delighted that you attended the Congress as a delegate but I don’t think your comments on the Climate Congress Draft Recommendations accurately reflects what the document represents.

    They were ideas complied from the 100 Delegates who attended the December 12th Climate Congress and will return for Jan 23rd session. One of the purposes of this Congress was to educate and engage residents from many parts of the city to create public support for action. We invited High School students, college students, neighborhood people, seniors, those from faith communities, artists, activists, doubters and of course climate change experts. The delegates were assigned to one of 12 groups and met three times during the day in their small groups to brainstorm. There were no brainstorm police tossing out the unfeasible or ineffective ideas or ideas which don’t (yet) have political support. The goal was to gauge what mostly ordinary residents feel about the Climate Emergency declared in May of last year by the City Council.

    The Committee which worked on compiling these recommendations felt that some of the suggestions would be most appropriate for City action, some for civic action and some for partnership action. In all cases we wanted to compile the suggestions in a document to be discussed on the 23rd of January. There is also an on-line survey which we will use to determine support or indifference for the recommendations contained in the draft you saw. Scientific and technical experts are being engaged to determine what is a priority, effective and feasible for a city with our resources. This overlay will be a guiding factor in our discussions next week. I believe the end product will not appear to be as scattershot as it may currently appear.

    I agree that delegates were clamoring to have accurate measurements on why the city failed to reach its 10 year goal of 20% energy reduction. In fact most delegates were dismayed to learn that the city increased its energy use by 17%! In an ideal world we’d know with certainty why & how this happened. But any expert will tell you – this type of quantification is not a science yet. We could put our resources into figuring out with precision the single, perfect action to take or we could start to make changes with the information we have now. The hope of this Congress is to create the public support and public pressure to empower the city and its citizens to take action.

    Over the past 10 years, Cambridge has lost much ground and is no longer one of the top 40 worldwide cities dealing with this urgent problem. We have the financial resources, local expertise and now we need to find the collective, political will.

    Comment by Minka vanBeuzekom — January 11, 2010 @ 10:36 pm

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