Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 26, 2016

Taking a Break – Preview of June 27, 2016 Cambridge City Council agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 2:51 pm

Taking a Break – Preview of June 27, 2016 Cambridge City Council agenda

This will be the last regular meeting of the City Council before the summer break. They won’t reconvene until the Special Midsummer Meeting on August 1. Here are a few items that I found at least somewhat interesting.

859 Mass. Ave.
859 Massachusetts Avenue

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $750,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Extraordinary Expenditures account to pay for design services for the building located at 859 Massachusetts Avenue and a feasibility study for municipal facilities. [The interesting part is the statement that "The renovation project at 859 Massachusetts Avenue is estimated to cost approximately $5 million."]

I am curious about the costs. I can perhaps understand the $750,000 price tag if this includes a feasibility study for a range of municipal facilities (as opposed to just for this one building). What I cannot grasp is the statement: "The renovation project at 859 Massachusetts Avenue is estimated to cost approximately $5 million." Sure, as a municipal facility it will have to be made fully handicap accessible, and a lot of reconfiguration will be necessary for its new use. That said, it seems as though you could knock it down and build an entirely new building for well under $5 million. This estimate works out to nearly $1000 per sq. ft. I do hope at least one city councillor asks for some explanation of this estimated cost.


UPDATE: City Manager Richard Rossi explained at the meeting that the facilities study as well as the $5 million renovation cost will cover three buildings – the newly acquired 859 Mass. Ave. building as well as 831 Mass. Ave. (the Lombardi Building) and 3 Bigelow St. (currently used for transitional housing). One possible outcome is that 859 Mass. Ave. would be used for housing and 3 Bigelow St. would be converted municipal uses and possibly joined to an expanded 831 Mass. Ave. This actually makes a lot of sense and would be well worth the cost of renovation.


Manager’s Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item 16-29, regarding the implementation of the C2 non-zoning recommendations. [Report]

This update does include some timeframes for some of the more achievable and generally acceptable goals, but the involvement of the Central Square Advisory Committee (CSAC) in helping to shape this has been hampered by staff changes at CDD. Hopefully this will be resolved soon, and perhaps the CSAC may be useful in facilitating additional public dialogue. Lest the perfect become the enemy of the good, some of the more controversial and difficult-to-achieve stuff can probably wait. Meanwhile, a new zoning petition to implement some of the more universally acceptable C2 zoning recommendations is expected later this year.

Manager’s Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a communication from the Affordable Housing Trust relative to the Inclusionary Housing Study. [Report]

This is a great statement of support from the Affordable Housing Trust, but it’s still not so easy to see how the economics of the proposed changes would work without at least some adjustment of the density bonus to cover the additional costs associated with increasing the inclusionary housing requirement to a full 20% of a new residential building.

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Healthy Pharms Inc., to amend the provisions of the Medical Marijuana Overlay district section 20.700 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance and Map.

You had to know this and other similar petitions were coming when the most recent borderline spot zoning change was made for the vicinity of Ellery St. and Mass. Ave. (Sage Cannabis). At some point the City Council will have to take a more comprehensive look at the Medical Marijuana Overlay district section of the Zoning Code instead of taking these one petition at a time. It may make more sense to just eliminate that section entirely and delegate the regulation of these facilities to the License Commission or other appropriate agency.

Resolutions #1-16. Congratulations to students elected for 2016-2017 to the CRLS student government and as representatives to the School Committee.

The CRLS student government voted earlier this year to use Ranked Choice Voting (and Proportional Representation) in their elections. I had the honor of tabulating the votes for them using the same software that the City of Cambridge uses in its municipal elections. Congratulations to all the winners!

Order #1. Declare that the five black marble slabs that comprise the perimeter of the Prince Hall Monument, which were mined in Africa and now are located upon the historic Cambridge Common, represent the more than 5,000 Black men who helped fight for this country’s independence during the Revolutionary War.   Mayor Simmons

This is one of the reasons I really love Mayor Simmons. She knows and cares about history – especially local history. It was Mayor Simmons who several years ago was responsible for bringing the Prince Hall Monument to the Cambridge Common.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding the feasibility of the City of Cambridge filing its own home rule petition regarding reduced speed limits in thickly settled areas in conjunction with the City of Boston’s current efforts.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung

Boston and Cambridge filing Home Rule petitions to be able to adjust some speed limits is not the ideal way to do this. What is really needed is for the Massachusetts Legislature to amend the Massachusetts General Laws so that there are more distinctions than just "thickly settled areas" in determining local speed limits. For example, a one-way street that is parked on both sides with a relatively narrow travel lane (like many Cambridge streets) should be declared a "neighborhood street" (or something like that), and it should have a speed limit of no more than 20-25 mph. There are other streets that by their very geometry should also be put in this category without having to carry out a detailed traffic study to justify the reduced speed. This should be established statewide. The 30 mph standard is still perfectly fine for many streets. All of Cambridge is "thickly settled", but not all roads in Cambridge can safely accommodate the same speeds.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of implementing a truck ban on Prospect Street during certain times of the day, or to otherwise mitigate the impact of the trucks utilizing this street.   Mayor Simmons

Heavy truck traffic on Prospect Street (except for local deliveries) has been banned for a long time.

Order #10. That the proposed addition to Title 6, entitled “Animals,” regarding the restriction on the sale of animals in pet shops be referred to the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

Many people choose to seek pets from local shelters, but it’s really wrongheaded to unfairly restrict the ways a person can obtain a pet. The proposed ordinance would require that "A pet shop may offer for sale only those birds, mammals, or reptiles that the pet shop has obtained from or displays in cooperation with… an animal care facility… or… an animal rescue organization." A simpler ordinance would simply require that any such sales be accompanied by appropriate documentation of the source of the animal up for adoption/sale.

Not on the Agenda, but important:
This past Thursday (June 23), a Cambridge cyclist (Amanda Phillips) was killed on Cambridge Street near Inman Square. The indications are that the cyclist was riding close enough to parked cars that when a driver opened a car door into the path of the cyclist this caused her to fall to the street where she was then fatally struck by a motor vehicle. The incident was eerily similar to a incident in July 2001 when a woman (Dana Laird) was killed in Central Square. (My photos of that day were actually subpoenaed in the subsequent civil case.) Though there are some serious issues associated with traffic safety in Inman Square (especially for cyclists and pedestrians), this fatality is not directly related to those issues. This could just as well have happened elsewhere. Is there anything that can be done to prevent such an incident in the future?

There is no one right answer to this question. For starters, cyclists should never ride close to parked cars. Motor vehicle operators should always check and double-check before opening doors into a travel lane. Some will argue that the only solution is to move all cyclists off the roads so that they become the sole domain of motor vehicles. I disagree. There is a place for separate facilities, such as twisting roads and places where there is a great speed differential between bikes and motor vehicles (like along Memorial Drive or any DCR parkway), but in a local setting the best streets are still shared streets where all vehicles are clearly visible to each other. We have to do a much better job of educating cyclists and motor vehicle operators about how to safely operate their vehicles.


UPDATE: There was plenty of public comment at this meeting in response to the death of cyclist Amanda Phillips in the vicinity of Inman Square – much of it arguing for the need of "separated bike lanes" or "cycle tracks" that would remove cyclists from the regular travel lanes on Cambridge Street. However, the well-circulated description of what happened may not actually coincide with the facts. It has now been reported that this may not have been a simple case of a cyclist riding along a road when a door was opened into her path. It may actually be the case that Ms. Phillips was transitioning from the sidewalk into the street when she came around the parked car and either struck the door or swerved to avoid it. If this turns out to be the case, then the driver may well have checked for cyclists and saw none prior to opening the car door. We’ll have to wait to see the report of the investigation before knowing exactly what happened next. This is important because the primary objection to cycle tracks is that they may actually be more dangerous at intersections and driveways by obscuring cyclists from the field of view of motorists – and there are plenty of intersections and driveways along that stretch of Cambridge Street.


There was also another murder (Anthony Clay, 49) in The Port on Friday night/Saturday morning on Harvard Street across from Greene-Rose Park. This neighborhood, and especially the area on or near Windsor Street has been the site of several murders over the last few years. We’re all hoping for justice to be served in this latest murder, but at what point do we say "Enough is Enough"? We can "Envision Cambridge" from now until eternity, but it doesn’t really mean much when the most basic human right is denied. – Robert Winters

June 21, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 149-150: June 21, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 149 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Tuesday, June 21, 2016 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 150 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Tuesday, June 21, 2016 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

November 13, 2015

Final Official Election Results – Cambridge 2015 Municipal Election

Final Official Election Results (Nov 13, 2015) – including all ballots

City Council (in order of election)
Nadeem Mazen
Denise Simmons
David Maher
Jan Devereux
Tim Toomey
Craig Kelley
Leland Cheung
Marc McGovern
Dennis Carlone

Incumbent Dennis Benzan is defeated

Vote!School Committee (in order of election)
Patty Nolan
Fred Fantini
Richard Harding
Kathleen Kelly
Manikka Bowman
Emily Dexter

Incumbent Fran Cronin is defeated

Full Final Official Election Results (Nov 13, 2015) – City Council & School Committee

City Council #1 Vote Distribution by Ward/Precinct (PDF)

School Committee #1 Vote Distribution by Ward/Precinct (PDF)

Alternate measures of Popularity – 2015 City Council Election (PDF)

Unofficial Election Results (Nov 4, 2015) – including all auxiliary ballots

City Council (in order of election)
Nadeem Mazen
Denise Simmons
David Maher
Jan Devereux
Tim Toomey
Leland Cheung
Craig Kelley
Marc McGovern
Dennis Carlone

Incumbent Dennis Benzan is defeated

School Committee (in order of election)
Patty Nolan
Fred Fantini
Richard Harding
Kathleen Kelly
Manikka Bowman
Emily Dexter

Incumbent Fran Cronin is defeated

Full Unofficial Election Results (Nov 4, 2015) – City Council & School Committee
Preliminary Election Results (Nov 3, 2015) – not including auxiliary ballots

City Council (in order of election)
Nadeem Mazen
Denise Simmons
Jan Devereux
David Maher
Craig Kelley
Dennis Carlone
Leland Cheung
Tim Toomey
Marc McGovern

Incumbent Dennis Benzan is defeated

School Committee (in order of election)
Patty Nolan
Fred Fantini
Richard Harding
Kathleen Kelly
Manikka Bowman
Emily Dexter

Incumbent Fran Cronin is defeated

Full Preliminary Election Results (Nov 3, 2015) – City Council & School Committee

Note 1: On Tuesday night, Nov 3, the Election Commission announced the preliminary winners in the order of election.

Note 2: On Wednesday, Nov 4, hundreds of additional "auxiliary ballots" were scrutinized for voter intent and then included with the Tuesday ballots to determine the "Unofficial Results". This produced the same winners, though in the City Council race the order in which candidates were elected changed.

Note 3: On Friday, Nov 13, the Final Results were determined when a small number of overseas absentee ballots and provisional ballots were examined. This resulted in an additional 8 ballots for each of the City Council and School Committee races. The margins in both the City Council and School Committee elections were such that there was no realistic possibility that the candidates elected would change, though the order in which Craig Kelley (6th) and Leland Cheung (7th) were elected was reversed.

election2015official

Council2015wdpct

School2015wdpct

November 4, 2015

Election Day Discussion – Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 87 and 88

Cambridge InsideOut this week focused on what to expect on election night (Nov 3).

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 87 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Nov 3, 2015 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 88 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Nov 3, 2015 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Full Unofficial Election Results (Nov 4, 2015) – City Council & School Committee

October 21, 2015

PR Election Mechanics – Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 83 and 84

Filed under: 2015 Election,Cambridge,elections — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:28 am

Cambridge InsideOut this week focused on some of the history of Proportional Representation elections (Single Transferable Vote), the mechanics of The Count, and the role of candidate slates.

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 83 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 20, 2015 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 84 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 20, 2015 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Background material for these programs can be found here: http://rwinters.com/insideout/2015oct20/

October 2, 2015

Cambridge Municipal Election Candidates – 2015

Cambridge City Council Candidates - 2015 (updated Aug 19) - FINAL

LastFirstaddresszipbirthdateoccuppapersvalid signatures
BenzanDennis1 Pine St.021391/25/1972AttorneyJuly 186
CarloneDennis9 Washington Ave. #6021405/7/1947ArchitectJuly 263
CheungLeland157 Garden St.021382/11/1978July 176
ConnollyMike20 Harding St. #3021416/3/1980July 2467
CourtneyKim2 Ware St. #4010213812/6/1973AttorneyJuly 161
DavidsonMariko2 Ware St. #4110213811/20/1981July 171
DegoesPlinio99 Garden St.021382/10/1981TeacherJuly 184
DevereuxJan255 Lakeview Ave.021385/13/1959Writer/CommunicationsJuly 191
DietrichXavier2 Ware St. #4010213812/2/1961July 1354
KelleyCraig6 Saint Gerard Ter. #2021409/18/1962PoliticianJuly 191
LevyIlan148 Spring St.0214111/1/1967Software EngineerJuly 1364
MaherDavid120 Appleton St. #2021388/8/1958Non-profit Mgr.July 196
MahoneyPaul F.23 Lawn St.021385/8/1950July 257
MazenNadeem720 Mass. Ave. #4021399/20/1983EntrepreneurJuly 281
McGovernMarc15 Pleasant St. #20213912/21/1968Social WorkerJuly 192
MelloGary324 Franklin St. #2021395/24/1953ClerkJuly 164
MoreeGregg25 Fairfield St. #4021406/16/1957CarpenterJuly 175
SanzoneJohn540 Memorial Dr. #3040213910/16/1988July 257
SimmonsE. Denise188 Harvard St. #4B0213910/2/1951Public OfficeJuly 184
ToomeyTimothy88 6th St.021416/7/1953CouncillorJuly 199
vanBeuzekomMinka20 Essex St. #1021397/24/1960GovernmentJuly 187
WaiteRomaine60 Lawn St. #5021386/7/1991July 273
WilliamsonJames1000 Jackson Pl. #45021401/13/1951July 162

50 valid signatures are needed to have candidate’s name placed on the municipal ballot.

Cambridge School Committee Candidates - 2015 (updated Aug 19) - FINAL

LastFirstaddresszipbirthdateoccuppapersvalid signatures
BowmanManikka134 Reed St.0214011/27/1979July 189
CisterninoPia62 Holworthy St. #1021388/28/1974speech-language pathologistJuly 267
CroninFran1 Kimball Ln.021402/14/1952School CommitteeJuly 184
CrutchfieldJake281 River St.021393/31/1987TeacherJuly 153
DexterEmily9 Fenno St.021383/16/1957Educational ResearcherJuly 1398
FantiniAlfred B.4 Canal Pk. #203021416/8/1949RetiredJuly 198
HardingRichard189 Windsor St. #10213910/16/1972AdministratorJuly 181
KadeteElechi10 Laurel St. #4021399/30/1989AccountantJuly 157
KellyKathleen17 Marie Ave. #1021393/8/1960Social WorkerJuly 192
NolanPatricia184 Huron Ave.021388/28/1957School CommitteeJuly 160
WeinsteinDavid45 S. Normandy Ave.0213812/10/1972Writer/CommunicationsJuly 164

50 valid signatures are needed to have candidate’s name placed on the municipal ballot.

Vote!Cambridge Candidate Pages – 2015
(candidates are encouraged to send additional information)

2015 Calendar of Election-related Events
[ submit your events ]

Campaign Finance – 2015 Cambridge City Council Candidates

June 30, 2014

Master Plans and Monkey Wrenches – June 30, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,planning — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 1:29 am

Master Plans and Monkey Wrenches – June 30, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

The curtain falls tonight on the FY2014 Fiscal Year as the City Council enters its Summer Recess – but not without a little controversy. Councillor Dennis "Pearl Harbor" Carlone is the first signer of a new zoning petition that is almost guaranteed to bring some fireworks in advance of the July 4 holiday. The petition has near zero chance of ultimately passing but stands out prominently in its disrespect for the Planning Board, the Community Development Department, and previous Cambridge City Councils who have passed a variety of zoning petitions with detailed Special Permit criteria spelled out to guide the Planning Board in the granting of Special Permits under the Zoning Ordinance.

Monkey WrenchApplications & Petitions #5. A zoning petition has been filed by Dennis Carlone, et al. requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to designate the City Council as the exclusive special permit granting authority for Project Review Special Permits.

The intent of this petition appears to be to enact an effective 30-month moratorium on all larger proposed developments in Cambridge by turning each project into a political football. Except for Councillors Carlone and Mazen (first and last signers), the signers of the petition consist almost entirely of principal players of the Cambridge Residents Alliance who have made no secret of their desire to enact such a moratorium. The essential component of the petition is the transfer of Project Review Special Permit authority from the Planning Board (where there is substantial professional expertise) to the City Council. Anyone who has ever witnessed the Planning Board working together to devise detailed conditions on the granting of a Special Permit should now imagine what this process might look like if conducted by the City Council as they play to the favor of their various political supporters. I shudder to think of it.

Fortunately, it appears that this misguided proposal has the support of only the two city councillors who signed it. Ideally, the City Council would just vote it down and declare it Dead On Arrival, but it’s possible that it may be formally referred to the Planning Board and the Ordinance Committee (co-chaired by Carlone) so that it can receive a proper funeral. As a zoning petition, it would require 6 of 9 city councillors to support it and that’s pretty much an impossibility unless they start lacing the Kool-Aid with hallucinogens.

Meanwhile the initial phase (Cambridge Conversations) of the upcoming review and possible revision of the City’s existing master plans has been met with expressions of satisfaction from most members of the public. Perhaps this is why Carlone and Company have chosen to toss a monkey wrench into the process. Political organizing thrives so much more when wrapped in controversy.

Communications #6. A communication was received from Rick Snedeker, 107 Clifton Street regarding a request for a Special Act Charter for Cambridge that does not include Proportional Representation.

This is included primarily for comic relief. This Snedeker fellow has now written a series of letters to the Cambridge Chronicle detailing his hostility regarding the structure of Cambridge city government and the way municipal elections are conducted. He believes that having 90% of ballots count toward the election of city councillors is more disenfranchising than a winner-take-all election where often fewer than 50% of ballots count toward the election of a candidate. That’s interesting math. He would have elections of ward councillors by simple plurality vote with no runoffs or primary elections. This installment from Snedeker also calls for the Mayor and City Council to be able to dismiss any City department head by a simple majority vote. I can only imagine the thrilling City Council meetings when a department head says something not to the liking of the elected councillors.

Communications #11. Sundry communications were received regarding the East Cambridge Courthouse.

There are 38 individual signed letters plus an additional 74 petition signatures in support of the proposed redevelopment of the Courthouse building. The prisoners are now out of the East Cambridge Courthouse and the transfer of the property from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to Legatt McCall, the chosen developer, is imminent. While there is clear opposition to the proposed redevelopment from many residents, it’s pretty clear that this is not a unanimously held position. The Planning Board is expected to make a decision on the Special Permit for the 40 Thorndike Street proposal at its July 29 meeting (to be held in East Cambridge, most likely at the Kennedy-Longfellow School). Regardless what the Planning Board decides, it is very likely that lawsuits will follow.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk’s Office transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee and Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration Committee for a joint public meeting held on June 25, 2014 to discuss the ongoing out of school/STEAM working group research.

I’m sure the participants at this meeting meant well and I think we all want to see some good programs developed in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM). The report, however, is remarkable in some of its convoluted quotes. Some of my favorites are these: "Councillor Mazen explained that it’s important for one subgroup to track other subgroup. People in this subgroup should ask other subgroups: Are we talking around the subject or are we addressing it?" and "Councillor Mazen confessed he isn’t opposed to having another subgroup but he feels that this can fall into other subgroups and can also be discussed by each subgroup." and "Councillor Mazen said he hoped next time will be an opportunity for everybody to work more circularly about a coordinator position".

Exactly how does one "work more circularly?" Does it involve beating around the bush? I’ll have to consult with my subgroup about this. – Robert Winters

Note: Due to construction in the Sullivan Chamber, this City Council meeting will take place in the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room at 459 Broadway (CRLS).

February 9, 2014

Leaving Cincinnati? Feb 10, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,elections — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:33 pm

Leaving Cincinnati? Feb 10, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Here are a few Agenda items that sparked some interest.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the Early Education Services Task Force.

As the report states, "The charge to the Task Force is to identify a range of possible options for expansion of early childhood services and to explore the benefits and challenges of each option." Candidates and elected officials have talked for some time about the value of early education services as an effective means of preventing future achievement gaps and other hardships. Many people believe that directing these resources early may lessen the need for corrective action later. We have now apparently entered into the planning and implementation phase of this initiative.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-03, regarding the progress of the Eastern Cambridge Kendall Square Open Space Planning Committee.

The ECKOS planning study committee has been meeting for much of this past year to develop an initial vision and goals for the entire open space network in Kendall Square and vicinity building upon the K2C2 Planning Study. There is now underway a planning and design competition. My only question is where they will be locating the miniature golf course. I’m dead serious. Think about how amazing it would be to have a sculpture garden that doubles as a mini-golf course.

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-02, regarding a report on determining whether Councillors "replying all" to emails, addressed to the council@cambridgema.gov on business that may subsequently come before the Council are unintentionally violating the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law.

Though everyone applauds the goal of transparency in public process and open meetings that encourage civic participation, one really has to wonder if we’ve now gone way over to the other side when every interaction among elected officials and between elected officials and the public entails the risk technically violating this law. I simply cannot believe this was the intention of the legislature when they drafted the current version of the law.

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining the noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 33 municipalities in the United States with three AAA ratings from the nation’s three major credit rating agencies.

We’ve come to take Cambridge’s credit-worthiness for granted, but it’s the result of the City administration and the City Council maintaining a steady financial plan even as we’ve undertaken some very ambitious and expensive projects. We often hear about Cambridge’s "free cash" and excess levy capacity whenever someone wants the City to break the bank to pay for another public amenity, but maintaining such a buffer is precisely why our bond ratings are so good.

Unfinished Business #3. That City Council Rule 35A be amended to provide that no suspension of the rules shall be required for late ceremonial resolutions filed after the close of the meeting agenda or before resolutions are voted on at the meeting. [Order Number Eight of Feb 3, 2014 Placed on Unfinished Business on Feb 3, 2014.]

Unfinished Business #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a letter from Mayor David P. Maher regarding the Ad-Hoc Committee relative to changes to Rule 26 of the City Council Rules. [Communication and Report from City Officers Number Four of Feb 3, 2014 Placed on Unfinished Business on Feb 3, 2014.]

It was interesting to hear some of the back-and-forth at last week’s City Council meeting about these proposed rules changes. The most significant changes are the reduction of the number of City Council Committees from 17 to 11 and the establishment of quorums for each of these committees. The proposals are simple, sensible, and workable (in spite of being called "fierce and complicated" by one observer). If all goes well, the rules changes (mainly the consolidation of committees) will be voted at this meeting and the City Council committee appointments will be made public. I’m looking forward to seeing how well this group of nine works together on specific matters in committee.

Resolution #1. Congratulations to State Representative Marjorie Decker for spearheading an amendment to fund a total of $13.5 million in Cambridge infrastructure transportation projects that was unanimously passed by the members of the State House of Representatives.   Vice Mayor Benzan

Though it clearly takes more than one representative in a House of 140 members to bring home the bacon, it’s good to see Marjorie Decker and the entire Cambridge delegation getting the job done. My understanding is that the Mass. State Senate and ultimately the Governor still have to weigh in before the deal is done. The noted $13.5 million is for the design and reconstruction of roads and sidewalks in Harvard Square and on River Street. There is also $3 million for completing the design and construction of the Inlet Bridge connecting North Point Park to the O’Brien Highway; $1.5 million for the design of a rail trail in the Grand Junction Railroad corridor in Cambridge, Somerville and Charlestown; $1.3 million for the Watertown Greenway which runs from Watertown to the Fresh Pond Reservation in Cambridge; $500,000 for construction at Fresh Pond Parkway and Mount Auburn Street; and $500,000 for a new pedestrian bridge at Alewife. None of this is final, but the signs are good.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all relevant city departments and engage with the leadership of Globe Direct to ensure that Cambridge residents who have not subscribed to weekly Globe Direct circulars and have indicated that they do not wish to receive more are promptly removed from further distribution lists.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Carlone

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on Dec 19, 2013 to conduct a public hearing on an amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.68 entitled relating to Plastic Bag Reduction.

The topic of Order #3 is also contained in the committee report, i.e. those unnecessary red plastic bags containing advertisements that now litter Cambridge porches, sidewalks, and anywhere else they can toss them. The main subject of the committee report is a proposed ban on plastic shopping bags that’s been kicked around for the last year or two. I need to point out that opinions are not unanimous in the recycling advocacy world on this topic. If plastic bags are replaced by paper bags, this is not necessarily a net positive from an environmental point of view. The hope is that the use of reusable grocery bags will greatly increase, and a proposed mandatory fee on paper bags is meant to encourage this. It’s also worth mentioning that many Cambridge residents (perhaps most) do their grocery shopping outside of Cambridge, e.g. the Somerville Market Basket, and may bu only minimally affected by this proposed ordinance.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department and the Election Commission to determine what steps would be necessary to change the method by which surplus votes are transferred in municipal elections and whether the Fractional Transfer Method could replace the Cincinnati Method.   Councillor Carlone

This is a good Order but it needs at least one more "Whereas" to emphasize the real reason why this reform should be considered. Allow me to go through this point by point (and you can feel free to tune this out if you’ve heard this before):

First, let’s be clear that a candidate does not need to reach the election quota in order to be elected. The purpose of the quota to to limit the number of ballots a winning candidate is allowed to keep in order to assure proportional representation. It does happen in some elections that candidates elected late in the process do not reach quota, but all other candidates have then been defeated and the number of candidates is reduced to the number to be elected.

It’s true that the Cincinnati method involves an element of chance, and that never sits well with people. It is, however, a fair system in that there is no systematic bias for or against any individual candidate, election precinct, or any subset of the electorate. The fact that shuffling and then recounting the ballots may give slightly different results is a serious problem, especially if there’s a close election.

The primary reason why a change should be considered to a system that is independent of ballot order is not because the current method in unfair, but rather because it creates a perverse incentive for a losing candidate to seek a recount solely to take advantage of this random element. The recent Recount cost an additional $109,604 and served only to prove the relative accuracy of the original scan of the ballots. [It should also be noted that much of this cost is caused by the substantial time needed to recreate the original ballot order. If this sequence didn’t matter, things would go a lot faster and cost far less.]

The Fractional Transfer Method noted in the Council Order is a ballot-order-independent method, but it must be noted that this requires somewhat more than simply changing the way surplus ballots are transferred. An equally important aspect of the method is how it deals with the election of a candidate during a round. In order to not have ballots transferred early in the round be treated differently than those transferred later in the round, it’s necessary that candidates be allowed to go over-quota during the round and then have their total reduced to quota using the same fractional transfer rules. The Fractional Transfer Method is actually the default option for the tabulation software Cambridge uses. The use of the Cambridge Rules is an optional set of rules built into the software.

The real purpose of the Order is to get information from the Law Department and the Election Commission about what steps would be required in order to make a change. The Election Commission can make changes to the procedures by simple majority vote to another method consistent with the principles of the law, but only to another method in use at the time of enactment of the law (1938), and there is no evidence of Fractional Transfer being in use anywhere at that time. The real goal should be to add this method to the list of permissible methods now that it can be done simply and quickly using modern technology. It is likely that this can be accomplished via a Home Rule Petition and a subsequent Special Act of the State Legislature. However, it’s important to also clarify how such a change might affect other provisions in the law, e.g. the right to a manual recount. It would perhaps be best if the standard for a recount could be clarified so that verification of voter intent followed by a computer count would be the preferred procedure should there be a call for a recount.

In anticipation of future conversations about this, today I carried out the Fractional Transfer Method and compared it with the Cincinnati Method for 7 City Council elections from 2001 through 2013. I will be happy to share the results with anyone who is interested (the winners are the same, by the way, though order of election does change in some elections). I also plan to do this for School Committee elections over this same period. – Robert Winters

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress

%d bloggers like this: