Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

April 12, 2010

April 12, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 11:51 am

April 12, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

The agenda is relatively light but the tension should be palpable on the eve of the Special State Senate Primary. As a courtesy, if there is still such a thing in the Cambridge political world, this meeting should open and shut in a half hour so that candidate Denise Simmons can attend to her campaign. Therefore I expect we’ll see Councillor Reeves, Craig Kelley, and former and future Senate candidate Marjorie Decker engage in extensive questions and comments just to extend the meeting for hours. Councillor Simmons should just check in and check out or exercise her Charter Right liberally at the first hint of nonsense.
[Postscript (8:25pm) – The predictions turned out all wrong – it was Simmons supporter Councillor Davis who spoke and lengthened the meeting the most. Marjorie Decker was concise and to the point. So much for fanciful predictions.]

On the agenda, we have the following items of interest:

City Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-52, regarding a report on the possibility of structuring the parking ticket system in a way that would increase parking tickets as people stay longer at expired meters or general no-parking spots.

Short answer – this is prohibited under state law: “all such fines shall be uniform for the same offense committed in the same zone or district“. One wonders how this applies to Somerville’s posted practice of permitting residents to park for free for several hours at parking meters in some areas at the edge of commercial zones. It’s a good idea, but is it legal under state law?

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to make City staff available to the Economic Development Committee to look at current real and personal property taxation issues which affect entrepreneurial businesses within the city.   Councillor Cheung

Councillor Cheung is diving right in as the new Chair of the Council’s Economic Development Committee. The key phrase in the Order is: “That staff review and report back to the Economic Development Committee of the City Council on state taxation guidelines and statutes that could potentially be adopted or changed to impact new business development, including but not limited to the taxation of R&D related personal property, economic distress regulations, and real estate related tax increment financing, for the purpose of encourage new business growth and job creation.” Councillor Cheung may soon discover how restricted City officials are in matters such as real estate taxation. Good ideas surfaced several years ago when multi-family residential property taxes were escalating with condominium real estate taxes relatively flat, but it went nowhere without changes in state law.

Order #2. That the City Council reappoint D. Margaret Drury as City Clerk for a term beginning June 1, 2010 and ending May 31, 2013.   Mayor Maher

Order #3. That the City Council reappoint James Monagle as City Auditor for a term beginning June 1, 2010 and ending May 31, 2013.   Mayor Maher

The City Council has authority under the Plan E Charter to appoint only the City Manager, the City Clerk, and the City Auditor. Tonight they’ll extend the appointments of two of these. Though not specified in the Charter, the City Council also formally appoints the Deputy City Clerk and, whether official or not, they now get to “appoint” their own patronage personal assistants, almost all of whom are City-funded campaign workers. On a brighter note, both City Clerk Margaret Drury and Auditor Jim Monagle are well deserving of reappointment.

Order #4. That the City Council place a temporary moratorium on designating any location under its control as “in memoriam” until such time as naming criteria are developed by the Government Operations Committee and adopted by the City Council.   Mayor Maher

If passed, this represents a victory of sorts for Councillor Kelley who has played like a broken record on this issue. Annoyance aside, the substance of his argument is correct. This practice has been too long abused.

Order #5. That the City Council go on record urging Cambridge’s Delegation to the Great and General Court to support Section 25, the Municipal Early Retirement Incentive Program, contained in the HB4526.   Mayor Maher

The key phrase in the Order is: “This program would allow a limited number of long term employees to receive early retirement benefits, while restricting the City’s ability to refill those same positions to no more than 30%, 45% and 60% of the former total salaries over the next three years, respectively.” Seems like a good option in tight financial times. – Robert Winters


  1. Early retirement may seem like a good option, but it never works out. It increases pension and retiree health insurance costs, which, in the end, are funded by the city. Maybe a little short-term gain, but a long-term disaster.

    Comment by Gerry McDonough — April 12, 2010 @ 8:21 pm

  2. I second Gerry’s comments. First, at least some of the older employees in municipal government do indeed have plenty of wisdom and insight worth keeping– and we’re sacrificing that for a short-term monetary gain. Second, that short-term gain will quickly evaporate because of increasing healthcare costs, both for the retiree and the new employee. I’m also sure that a fair number of people on the city payroll probably can sail into the sunset without much loss to the city, but as we move into a knowledge-based world, nickel-and-diming your way to cheaper employees isn’t wise.

    If the city really wanted to get its long-term personnel costs under control, it would pass an ordinance along the lines of: ‘As of July 1, 2010, no new hire shall receive a defined-benefit pension plan. All future contributions to defined-benefit plans for current employees are now frozen.’

    I know that language would probably need state approval and the unions would fight it bitterly. But that doesn’t mean it’s not valid. To my thinking, it’s our only long-term solution.

    Comment by Matt — April 13, 2010 @ 5:50 am

  3. Thanks for the second, Matt, but your own proposal is completely unrealistic. Municipal pensions are required by state statute, and I personally object to the idea of one’s pension being subject to a defined contribution plan, which is what you appear to suggest. Massachusetts public employees are not entitled to Social Security; even if they have contributed to the Social Security system, their Social Security benefits are minimal. The Massachusetts public pension system, despite its abuses, is actually a good deal for municipalities — most public employees hired today will come close to fully funding their own retirement benefits, and cost Cambridge much less then they would if they were in the Social Security system. It’s the unpaid debts from the past pay-as-you-go mentality, as well as the outrageous public pension abuses, that create our present dilemma. Let’s support real public pension reform.

    Comment by Gerry McDonough — April 13, 2010 @ 8:28 pm

  4. Early Retirement Legislation: CCJ seems to like the idea of providing certain city employees with the ability to take an early retirement incentive and filling their positions (if necessary) with lower paid staff – generating significant savings. It does “sound” like a good idea – but the incentive is a bad trick on many early retirees. Unless you’ve made post retirement plans that are really doable, the average early retiree is going to find out within two weeks how bad daytime TV is; or, worse, just how unemployable (s)he really is; and why it’s never a good idea for anyone to retire during a recession.

    Early retirement is good for the employer, but more often, a bad decision for relatively young retirees who will stay home, eat more than they should, get depressed, and find the world less tolerant of them than they’d wish.

    My ten years working with AARP and three decades working in the field of aging will bear this out.

    Comment by Glenn Koocher — April 25, 2010 @ 8:13 pm

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