March 1, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights
The City Council now has a mayor – Mayor Maher – and hopefully we’ll have City Council committee appointments today or very soon. David Maher has often portrayed himself as the “common sense” candidate and councillor, so let’s hope that rings true in his committee appointments. Several years ago, I posted the Grimm’s Fairy Tale “The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage” in connection with these appointments to emphasize what can go wrong when responsibilities are assigned for the wrong reasons (see below). Some of the choices for the members and chairs of these committees should be obvious to anyone who follows City Council business. Here are some random thoughts on the possibilities:
Ordinance: Unless the Mayor wants to break from tradition and appoint himself, I suppose this leaves Councillors Seidel, Davis, and Toomey as the pool of most logical choices for Chair or Co-Chairs of this committee.
Finance: Though it would be a significant responsibility for the new guy, Councillor Cheung has the background most suitable for the job.
Health and Environment: Councillor Davis is the obvious choice, but the task of this committee is quite flexible and could lean more toward public health. In that case, Councillor Toomey’s work in the state legislature would make him an excellent choice as Chair of this committee.
Human Services: It would seem logical that Councillor Reeves’ not-yet-implemented initiatives from the previous Council might warrant his continuation as Chair.
Civic Unity: This is, as always, anybody’s guess since this committee’s function has often been at the whim of its Chair except when responding to some hot issue of the day. Mayor Maher should flip a coin on this one.
Transportation, Traffic, and Parking: This was Councillor Davis’ bailiwick, though Councillor Kelley remains a logical choice to continue as Chair.
Government Operations and Rules: This may turn out to be the most important of the committees and perhaps the most politicized. Toward the end of this City Council term, there will almost certainly be discussion of the future possibilities for the position of City Manager. This committee also occasionally initiates discussions about possible Charter reform, though this is usually just a short-term reaction to dissatisfaction with the mayoral selection process. In recent years, the most logical choices were Councillor Maher and former Councillors Sullivan and Murphy. Though there may be no ideal choice this year, Councillors Toomey, Davis, and Seidel seem best-matched to the task.
Housing: Councillors Simmons or Seidel or Decker come to mind.
Neighborhood and Long Term Planning: Councillor Seidel, of course, though Councillor Cheung would be a welcome member of this committee.
Claims: Councillor Toomey always asks for it.
Public Facilities, Art, and Celebrations: Perhaps Councillor Reeves or Councillor Davis.
Veterans: The clear choice is Councillor Kelley, a veteran who really cares about the purpose of this committee.
Cable TV, Telecommunications, and Public Utilities: Since energy and climate-related issues are advancing into the spotlight, perhaps this should again be chaired by Councillor Davis. However, it would also be a good choice for Councillor Cheung who has already proposed initiatives relevant to this committee. It would be great if at least some attention was given this term to future Cable TV and related options – an area that is quickly changing and for which structures laid out 25 years ago are trending toward obsolescence.
Public Safety: Councillor Toomey, Councillor Kelley, or Councillor Simmons come to mind.
Economic Development, Training, and Employment: Councillors Simmons, Seidel, or Cheung are probably best-suited for this committee. Other reasonable choices could be Councillors Davis or Decker. In contrast, the previous Chair (Reeves) met this committee only once in two years and only then in response to complaints from some taxi drivers about being required to accept credit card payments.
University Relations: Councillor Cheung is the sensible (and obvious) choice.
Let’s see what we get, and don’t forget what became of the mouse, the bird and the sausage.
At the last Council meeting, two items were tabled via the Charter Right and will presumably be voted tonight.
Charter Right #1. Charter Right exercised by Councillor Seidel on City Manager Agenda Number Fourteen of Feb 22, 2010 on a communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the transfer within the Community Policing Grant of $31,360 from Grant Fund Police Extraordinary Expenditures account to the Grant Fund Police Travel and Training account to cover costs associated with the Cambridge Review Committee.
According to Marc Levy’s account of this in his Cambridge blog, Councillors Seidel, Reeves, and Decker all had things to say about this item, though their reasons for objection varied from lack of transparency and inclusiveness (Seidel) to outright disagreement with the entire purpose of this committee (Reeves). It seems likely that additional debate/speeches will be heard on this matter.
Charter Right #2. Charter Right exercised by Vice Mayor Davis on Policy Order Number Eight of Feb 22, 2010 that the City Manager is requested to communicate to Oak Tree Development that the City Council requested that the CPA funds used for the preservation of St. James Church be returned to the City.
This one should be filed along with the author’s previous order a few years ago to downzone a stretch of Memorial Drive essentially to pastureland in response to concerns over hotel workers being fired. A City Council Order should be both serious and legally legitimate. In this case, regardless how one may feel about this proposed development, Community Preservation Act funds were used by St. James Church for the restoration of its belfry. It is simply not logical to demand that because this church (or any entity for that matter) received public funds for part of its property that this should allow the City to make demands on other property owned by the church or which may soon be sold by the church. The belfry was preserved and remains preserved regardless what happens nearby.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Assistant City Manager of Community Development to work with community groups and to conduct a feasibility study of a public market at Lechmere Square. Councillor Toomey and Councillor Cheung
This idea was floated by the East Cambridge Planning Team last year and deserves a good look even if something very different comes out of the discussion. This is an important parcel which will be vacated when the T station moves across the McGrath Highway which hopefully will one day be restored to something less like a highway and more like an urban boulevard.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Chief Information Officer of Information Technology to to evaluate available options and report back to the City Council with the results of that evaluation and a timeframe for transitioning to a modern web video platform. Councillor Cheung
Once again, our new Councillor injects his ever-so-modern perspective into the workings of the City Council and spares no details.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to report back on the infrastructure of Central Square, its planned improvements, and whether these improvements are on track to be completed in time for the BIO 2012 conference. Councillor Reeves
The only point I would make on this one is that any infrastructure and improvements in Central Square should be done first for the betterment of its residents and existing businesses and should not be driven by the needs of a conference, no matter how large, that will last a few days and be gone. A little more detail on exactly what infrastructure is being referenced in this Order would also be appreciated. — Robert Winters
The Mouse, the Bird, and The Sausage – by Brothers Grimm
Once upon a time, a mouse, a bird, and a sausage, entered into partnership and set up house together. For a long time all went well; they lived in great comfort, and prospered so far as to be able to add considerably to their stores. The bird’s duty was to fly daily into the wood and bring in fuel; the mouse fetched the water, and the sausage saw to the cooking.
When people are too well off they always begin to long for something new. And so it came to pass, that the bird, while out one day, met a fellow bird, to whom he boastfully expatiated on the excellence of his household arrangements. But the other bird sneered at him for being a poor simpleton, who did all the hard work, while the other two stayed at home and had a good time of it. For, when the mouse had made the fire and fetched in the water, she could retire into her little room and rest until it was time to set the table. The sausage had only to watch the pot to see that the food was properly cooked, and when it was near dinner-time, he just threw himself into the broth, or rolled in and out among the vegetables three or four times, and there they were, buttered, and salted, and ready to be served. Then, when the bird came home and had laid aside his burden, they sat down to table, and when they had finished their meal, they could sleep their fill till the following morning: and that was really a very delightful life.
Influenced by those remarks, the bird next morning refused to bring in the wood, telling the others that he had been their servant long enough, and had been a fool into the bargain, and that it was now time to make a change, and to try some other way of arranging the work. Beg and pray as the mouse and the sausage might, it was of no use; the bird remained master of the situation, and the venture had to be made. They therefore drew lots, and it fell to the sausage to bring in the wood, to the mouse to cook, and to the bird to fetch the water.
And now what happened? The sausage started in search of wood, the bird made the fire, and the mouse put on the pot, and then these two waited till the sausage returned with the fuel for the following day. But the sausage remained so long away, that they became uneasy, and the bird flew out to meet him. He had not flown far, however, when he came across a dog who, having met the sausage, had regarded him as his legitimate booty, and so seized and swallowed him. The bird complained to the dog of this bare-faced robbery, but nothing he said was of any avail, for the dog answered that he found false credentials on the sausage, and that was the reason his life had been forfeited.
He picked up the wood, and flew sadly home, and told the mouse all he had seen and heard. They were both very unhappy, but agreed to make the best of things and to remain with one another.
So now the bird set the table, and the mouse looked after the food and, wishing to prepare it in the same way as the sausage, by rolling in and out among the vegetables to salt and butter them, she jumped into the pot; but she stopped short long before she reached the bottom, having already parted not only with her skin and hair, but also with life.
Presently the bird came in and wanted to serve up the dinner, but he could nowhere see the cook. In his alarm and flurry, he threw the wood here and there about the floor, called and searched, but no cook was to be found. Then some of the wood that had been carelessly thrown down, caught fire and began to blaze. The bird hastened to fetch some water, but his pail fell into the well, and he after it, and as he was unable to recover himself, he was drowned.