2009 City Council Agenda Notes
Dec 21, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
This is the last meeting of the 2008-09 City Council term and the last one for Councillor Larry Ward who was not reelected in the November election. As much as I look forward to the arrival of newly-elected Leland Cheung to the City Council, I would have preferred to see someone other than my neighbor and friend Larry Ward vacate the seat to make room for the new guy. Life goes on and Larry will continue to be a bigger-than-life presence in the neighborhood as he has always been. I know that his Council colleagues and the City administration appreciated his time on the City Council.
There are 10 responses by the City Manager to Council requests for information on tonight's agenda. This leaves only 22 out of 305 such requests from this Council term - not a bad response rate. The remaining requests cover truck traffic, traffic at two major intersections, tenant representation on the Housing Authority Board and stimulus money for CHA projects, the Walden Street cattle pass, hoarding, security cameras, library hours of operation, a Women's Commission report, smoking in parks and outdoor seating areas, noisy rooftop mechanicals, dark sky zoning amendments, a 311 alert system, middle schools, damaged overhead wires, videos for Mac users, playgroups, Lakeview Avenue construction, rodents, and raising chickens.
One notable item on the City Manager's Agenda is this:
City Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the acceptance of M.G.L. Chapter 32B, Section 20, which will establish an Other Post Employment Liability Trust Fund. This irrevocable trust fund will provide the City a vehicle to make contributions to meet the unfunded liability; and the transfer of $2.0 million from the City’s Health Insurance Claims Trust Fund, which has a balance of $17.7 million to the Other Post Employment Liability Trust Fund. This initial allocation will begin the process of providing future allocations from this and/or other funding sources to the OPEB Trust Fund based on an annual review.
This initiative is part of a long-term change in the way states and cities handle the accounting of these obligations. As reported by the Manager, these recommendations have been in the works since 2007 and "the City has positioned itself to address the OPEB liability in an orderly and planned manner in the future, which has been recognized by the rating agencies as part of its positive credit rating."
There's also this procedural Order regarding the forwarding of items not yet acted on to the 2010-2011 City Council.
Order #1. That all items pending before the City Council and not acted upon by the end of the 2009 Legislative Session be placed in the files of the City Clerk without prejudice provided that those proposed ordinances which have been passed to a second reading, advertised and listed under "Unfinished Business" during the 2008-2009 City Council term shall be forwarded to the next City Council and further provided that any items pending in committee may, at the discretion of the committee, be forwarded to the next City Council. Mayor Simmons
Not that it matters all that much to anyone, but I really wish the City Council would dispose of the following item one way or another:
Unfinished Business #5. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on Nov 18, 2004 for the purpose of considering proposed amendments to Chapter 2.74 of the Cambridge Municipal Code, the Police Review and Advisory Board (PRAB) Ordinance. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 14, 2005. [Four sections of the proposed amendment were passed to be ordained as amended. Ordinance #1284. The remaining proposed amendments to chapter 2.74 remain on Unfinished Business.]
It's embarrassing to have items over five years old lingering on the agenda week after week and year after year. There is an ongoing review of police and PRAB matters. If the Council cannot resolve this now, they should refer it to the ongoing review and start fresh in the new Council term. Even proposed amendments to ordinances have a shelf life.
Meanwhile, the speculation continues as to who will be chosen as Chair of the City Council and School Committee in two weeks, i.e. the new mayor. It matters little to most residents, but these two higher salary years can make a big difference in the pension of a city councillor. The selection is something of a strategic contradiction - councillors who do well in the November election are often disadvantaged by the fact that their colleagues don't want to strengthen their hand by giving them the increased visibility of being mayor. Some people get all worked up about this short period of conflict among councillors, but this usually (and hopefully) passes quickly. It is, after all, not really that big a deal. - RW
Dec 14, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
Tonight's meeting will be the next to last of the 2008-09 City Council term with one more to go next Monday. It's notable how the number of Council Orders and Resolutions drops precipitously after Election Day. The City Manager has 7 responses to City Council requests on his agenda (dealing with parking, police details, the Red Line, tree wells, railroad tracks, trash pickup, and scabies), but we are blessed with just 3 new City Council Orders. Fortunately, Councillor Davis submitted the following Order before flying the coop on her way to Copenhagen:
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments including the Inspectional Services Department and the City Solicitor to report back to the 2010 City Council in January on what barriers would prevent residents from raising chickens and what could be done to remove these barriers. Councillor Davis
I have met these chickens and I hope we can provide them legal, affordable housing in Cambridge. This reminds me of the rooster that used to live behind a house on Columbia street diagonally behind the Squirrel Brand Community Garden (before the City sacrificed half the garden to build an underutilized mini-park in the name of community access - but I digress). I don't know whether the rooster died or was evicted, but it was once a marvelous thing to hear the cock crow while visiting that garden. I'm sure the "new people" moving into the neighborhood did not appreciate that bird as I did.
So, let's change the ordinances to allow the chickens to come home to roost. Maybe we should get some cows to graze on the Common while we're at it.
There's also this:
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cable Television Department to determine the reason for Comcast to be conducting a poll regarding the City's Cable Channels and CCTV channels. Councillor Toomey
I don't know what the Evil Empire of Comcast is up to with this poll, but I'll be happy to offer some feedback right here. It was not very nice to take away virtually all of the TV stations for Basic Analog Cable customers other than those that can be picked up off the air. Except for New England Cable News, CCTV, and the municipal stations, everything else recently vanished. Perhaps some stations would return if I got their digital service, but I expect that will require at last another $50 per month for the privilege of getting back some of these commercial-laden stations and it's hard to justify this. I believe I'd have to pay close to $100 per month to see any Red Sox games. Meanwhile, Comcast is in the process of buying the National Broadcast Company (NBC) from General Electric for perhaps $35 billion. Where is Teddy Roosevelt when we need him to break up the trusts?
My inclination is to say good-bye to Comcast. I hope others in Cambridge feel the same way. Of course, I'm sure the Evil Empire will only try to find other ways to restrict access to television programs unless their trolls are paid handsomely in order to buy up even more media companies. Welcome to The World of More.
Other business on tonight's agenda includes 6 City Council committee reports as our elected officials scurry to close out the books for this term. There's also the official word from the Election Commission that the School Committee Recount returned the same winners (after considerable cost even though there was essentially no chance that the results would change). -- RW
Dec 7, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
As the current City Council term winds down leading up to the January Inaugural and the mayoral election, City Council meetings as well as what goes on among councillors outside of the meetings is like an elaborate polygamous mating ritual. Councillors chat seductively in pairs and in small groups as those who would be mayor woo potential votes of their chamber-mates en route to a January consummation. Meanwhile, there are a few notable items on the Council meeting agenda:
Order #5. Cancellation of the City Council meeting scheduled for Dec 28, 2009. Councillor Davis
Did anyone actually believe they were going to meet then?
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to discuss the matter of the merge of Route 2 eastbound and Route 16 with relevant City departments and DCR staff and report back to the City Council on how this merge could be made less nerve-wracking. Councillor Kelley
A "flyover" would have made it nice and easy. [That's an inside joke.]
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Information Technology Department to see how the city website and City Council videos can be modified to accommodate Mac users. Councillor Decker
http://www.microsoft.com/mac/products/flip4mac.mspx [Windows Media Play for Mac]. Ain't Google wonderful, hint, hint.
Order #9. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to determine whether or not Aggregate Industries is providing concrete to any Cambridge City construction or sidewalk projects. Councillor Decker
Apparently, Aggregate Industries was supplying oatmeal or something similar instead of concrete for the Big Dig construction and had to pay a $50 million penalty for their transgressions.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Marsha Weinerman, Executive Director, Election Commission, transmitting the final official results of the 2009 Cambridge Municipal Election held on Tues, Nov 3, 2009 for City Council.
This makes official the results of the 2009 City Council election. The communication was sent prior to the completion of the School Committee Recount, so expect to get the official word on that next week. For the curious - 2009 School Committee Recount. - RW
Nov 23, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
There's not much to comment on for this unusually light agenda. The only item that seemed mildly interesting was this:
City Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $958,388 in interest earnings associated with the $10.7 million Massachusetts Public Construction grant received from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners to the Public Investment Fund Library Extraordinary Expenditures account to offset the construction costs of the new main library.
To the Honorable, the City Council:
Very truly yours, Robert W. Healy, City Manager
Every nickel that offsets the cost of the library is appreciated. It's noteworthy that when the state grants money to the City for a project that will take time to build, the City has the opportunity to invest that grant money in the interim with the interest helping to offset the cost of the project - in this case nearly 10% of the value of the grant. - RW
Nov 16, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
With less of an incentive for pre-election speechmaking, this meeting could move along swiftly, though I suppose we should all be mindful that some of the councillors will be doing their best over the next month and a half to position themselves well in their deliberation for who shall next be the mayor. As far as the agenda goes, here are the items that caught my eye:
First, the City Manager's Agenda contains ten responses to City Council requests for reports (about 25% of all pending requests). Clearly the City Manager's Office is trying to complete a good deal of these requests before the end of this Council term. There are also five appropriation requests relating to the Community Learning Center.
Notable among the City Council Resolutions and Orders are the first in each category:
Resolution #1. Resolution on the death of the Reverend Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill, also known as "Brother Blue." Councillor Toomey, Councillor Davis, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Reeves, Councillor Decker, Councillor Maher, Vice Mayor Seidel
Order #1. Dedication of a suitable site at the new Main Library in the honor of Brother Blue, the Reverend Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill. Mayor Simmons
Needless to say, Brother Blue was well known throughout Cambridge and respected by all. Let's hope that Councillor Kelley makes this one unanimous.
Order #2. That the Mayor appoint an Inauguration Committee to plan the 2010 Inauguration and that efforts be made to consider economy and efficiency of the event(s), including consideration of a joint inauguration of the City Council and School Committee. Mayor Simmons
Order #5. That the Government Operations Committee review the policies for swearing in the Mayor and determine if there are options for which meeting this is conducted. Mayor Simmons
It should come as a surprise to no one that the Inauguration of the next City Council and the concurrent mayoral election is on the minds of the city councillors. There is no doubt whatsoever that they are asking each other "out for coffee" in pairs, and the jockeying for position continues. Let's just hope that any deals that are cut this time are all above board and that the shots are not being called from Hurlbut Street.
Order #3. That the Government Operations Committee consider increasing ongoing public information about election counts in real time, and that through the use of CTV8 an improved process will provide the public access to ongoing election results until the final count is available. Mayor Simmons
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to consider a plan for making the Senior Center equipped with the necessary technology for live CTV8 broadcast of important Senior Center meetings and events. Mayor Simmons
These two are related. While the elongated PR Count this year (due to the significant write-in campaign) would not have made for riveting TV viewing spread over two full days plus the additional 8-day wait until the final results, there were a few moments when results were being announced that really should have been available live on the Municipal TV channel. The excuse given for why this has not happened in past years is that there is no direct connection for the TV broadcast, but this is a problem that is both solvable and long overdue. Any and all locations for significant public meetings should be all wired up and ready to go. There are probably also some very accessible wireless options.
On a related matter, I now have the ballot data from this year's election and will produce some supplementary information on the election over the next few days for all you election junkies out there (and we know who you are!). -- Robert Winters
Nov 2, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
There is a long tradition of ultra-short City Council meetings the night before a municipal election. This year is no exception with just one item on the City Manager's Agenda and only three City Council orders. I found only two items to be somewhat interesting:
Applications & Petitions #2. An application was received from The Field Restaurant, requesting permission for twelve tables and twenty-four chairs for restaurant seating in front of premises numbered 20 Prospect Street.
The City recently narrowed Prospect Street in the one-block section between Mass. Ave. and Bishop Allen and widened the sidewalk on the side where The Field is located. It's still not especially wide. If The Field is permitted to set up tables on the sidewalk, it's hard to imagine there being much room for pedestrians to pass alongside this busy roadway. It's also a ridiculous location for outside seating.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to review this issue with relevant City staff and to report back to the City Council how many out of town officers are picked for construction details in Cambridge, how they are picked for construction details in Cambridge, how those officers are trained and supported to provide the same security as Cambridge police officers working construction details, how they are supervised while working these details and how any complaints against them are handled. Councillor Kelley
Maybe it's the fact that I was stuck in traffic near Wellington Circle a few days ago where thousands of cars were backed up for some bridge work with just one police officer stationed at a completely inessential location overseeing this sea of gridlock. Then again, perhaps it's just my revulsion to this feudal perspective that each town should "protect its own" in doling out these lucrative and borderline criminal details. In any case, wasn't our glorious governor supposedly pushing to replace uniformed police officers at road construction sites with flagmen? Whatever happened to that? Oh yeah... go along to get along, the Massachusetts way. - Robert Winters
Oct 26, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
It's a very light agenda and the meeting should be short (better to work on reelection campaigns!), unless one item spawns controversy. The two items that struck me as interesting are:
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 09-97, regarding a report on plans for the reuse of 5 Western Avenue.
"In response to Awaiting Report Item Number 09-97, regarding plans for the reuse of 5 Western Avenue, please be advised that the Cambridge Housing Authority and the City are analyzing the feasibility and finance-ability of partnering in an exciting rehabilitation project that would result in the resolution of the space issues of the Community Learning Center and the Multi-Service Center, and accommodate the administrative offices of the Housing Authority. Construction estimates and funding vehicles are currently under analysis." -- Robert W. Healy, City Manager
This is long-awaited and apparently very good news.
Charter Right #3. That the City Manager is requested to submit to the City Council a request for an appropriation sufficient to enable the City Council to undertake academic or legal counsel to review the Plan E Charter. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Decker on Order Number Fifteen of Oct 19, 2009.]
Councillor Toomey said it best last week when he noted that it is the job of a city councillor to read and understand the Charter. This is not the kind of thing to farm out to a hired hand. If Councillor Reeves has a point to make, he should just do so. Councillor Davis was also right on the money last week in noting that there was nothing specified in Reeves' order about how this mythical expert would be chosen. It is naive to think that this would be an objective choice whether or not the Mayor was given the responsibility of making this unnecessary choice which is clearly intertwined with the current election campaign. - Robert Winters
Oct 19, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
Tonight's agenda is relatively light, but there are a few notable items. In the weeks immediately preceding a municipal election, you can usually expect to see some effects of the campaign bleeding their way into the City Council agenda. Often this takes the form of a zoning petition carefully timed to come to a final vote immediately prior to the election, though this is not the case this year. Issues at the core of a challenger's campaign which become topics at candidate forums can also pop up within City Council orders as the incumbents try to steal some thunder. One such example is Order #15 addressing the Council/Manager balance of power that has been beaten to death at candidate forums. Here are a few items that stood out:
Communication #5. A communication was received from Kathy Podgers, transmitting information on how stress makes allergies worse and last longer.
Though clearly irrelevant to the City Council or the business of the City of Cambridge, this letter highlights the ongoing grudge by Ms. Podgers directed toward Councillor Decker growing out of a City Council meeting a few years ago at which the presence of Ms. Podgers guide dog caused a substantial allergic reaction by Councillor Decker (who was pregnant at the time and unable to take anti-allergy medication) forcing her to leave the meeting early. My only comment is that the civic environment can only be diminished when people resort to lawsuits and personal vendettas instead of acceptable compromise. Besides, if a resident/candidate wants to take issue with an incumbent city councillor, there are better, more adult ways of doing so. This letter stinks of passive aggression.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor to report back to the City Council with a legal opinion on whether or not listing public notices on the City website could fulfill the obligation of the City to publish legal notices. Councillor Toomey
See comments entitled "Putting the Paper to Bed".
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council if any residents are in danger of losing their housing due to the fiscal status of affordable housing providers in Cambridge. Vice Mayor Seidel
I periodically wonder about questions such as this. The City has now worked collaboratively on many housing projects with companies like Just-A-Start, Homeowner's Rehab, and CASCAP. As buildings age and the economic and political landscape shifts, how secure can the City's "housing policy" be when so much of it is in the hands of agencies that are influenced by the City but not really under the control of any City department? Perhaps it's better this way - almost a privatization of City housing policy. However, a day may come when some of these agencies will have costs that exceed their revenues. What then? Can they sell off some of their buildings to cover the rest?
Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to submit to the City Council a request for an appropriation sufficient to enable the City Council to undertake academic or legal counsel to review the Plan E Charter. Councillor Reeves
O-15 Oct 19, 2009
I've never seen the matter of the Council/Manager balance of power as particularly complicated or difficult to understand. The City Council passes ordinances, approves budgets, and determines overall policies (Orders) for the Manager to implement. The Manager submits an annual budget and oversees all of the operational details necessary to run the City government and implement City Council policies, including the hiring and management of all City personnel. If a majority of the City Council decides that the Manager is not properly doing his job, they can show him the door.
There is, of course, the reality that the long tenure of a Manager will tend to strengthen the hand of the Manager, but this is primarily due to the willingness of the City Council to go along with the wisdom gained by tenure. The flip side of this is that during the early years of a new Manager, the City Council will have the greater "wisdom" and the stronger hand. Such will be the case in just a few short years at the end of Robert Healy's current contract, or sooner should he choose to retire earlier. Be careful what you wish for! Will this City Council be up to the challenge when the pendulum swings? To some, including this observer, this is a serious factor in sorting out the challengers as well as the incumbents. I'm not so sure that we now have nine who can choose a new Manager let alone manage their new Manager.
Is Reeves' Order really asking a question or is he merely trying to shift the balance during an election in which some challengers have chosen to make the City Manager an issue? Is this just another page in the ongoing saga of last year's Monteiro decision and this year's Great Gates Case that have made their way into Reeves' statements at candidate forums? Is it really necessary to obtain a budget for legal and academic consultation on this? My understanding is that Mr. Reeves has a Harvard law degree. Surely he can answer his own question as well as anyone. -- Robert Winters
Oct 5, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
Tonight's City Manager's Agenda is dominated by many responses (16) by the City Manager and staff to Council Orders requesting information. The City Council Orders may prove interesting. They run the gamut from violence in the Congo to tree wells, flagpoles, greyhounds, and the Police Review and Advisory Board. Some that drew my attention are:
Order #10. That the City Council hold a special meeting on the status of the Police Review and Advisory Board [PRAB] and all related topics. Councillor Kelley
Perhaps Councillor Kelley could be more nonspecific, but I doubt it. If the intention of this Order is to clean house on the Unfinished Business item that has been languishing on the agenda for half a decade, then this is good housekeeping at its best.
Unfinished Business #3. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on Nov 18, 2004 for the purpose of considering proposed amendments to Chapter 2.74 of the Cambridge Municipal Code, the Police Review and Advisory Board Ordinance. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 14, 2005. [Four sections of the proposed amendment were passed to be ordained as amended. Ordinance #1284. The remaining proposed amendments to chapter 2.74 remain on Unfinished Business.]
However, the vagueness of Kelley's Order seems to open the door for a free-for-all during which we may be treated to speeches on a) the ongoing legal challenge to the Monteiro v. City of Cambridge verdict; b) the recent PRAB decision to take up the a case filed by a Boston-based advocacy group on the Great Gates Affair; and c) anything under the sun. I hope there's at least one city councillor who will force a little more specificity on this.
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with an explanation of the Cambridge Police Department's policy on making available to the public information about crimes and suspects and other information not prohibited from public release. Councillor Kelley
This brings to mind a Council meeting a while back when Councillor Kelley asked that the Police Department publish a list of all the places where they regularly look for speeding violations. I'm all for public disclosure of useful information, but is it sensible for the Cambridge Police Department to announce in advance where they will or will not be looking for speeders? Regarding Councillor Kelley's latest foray into police work, I would like it if complete descriptions of bad guys were made available after every crime, regardless of concerns about political correctness. Public safety is more important than concern for delicate sensibilities. On the other hand, I definitely don't need to know about details in an ongoing investigation that might possibly compromise the investigation or subsequent prosecution. In some matters, you just have to trust the cops to do their job.
Order #17. Urge members of the Cambridge Legislative Delegation to support House Bill No.3643 which would reduce the prevailing speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph in urban districts on local roads. Councillor Davis
This Order is notable only because of how many times we've seen it. It must be a dozen or more times that I've read essentially the same Order over the last decade.
Order #18. Urge members of the Cambridge Legislative Delegation to support H.853 which would prohibit new buildings that cast new shadow on parks except during the first hour of sunrise or before 7:00am or during the last hour before sunset. Councillor Davis
It's important to note that the proposed law would apply only to specific parks. There is already a law affecting the Boston Public Garden, the Boston Common, and the Lynn Common. This would expand that list to include Magazine Beach Park, the Esplanade, Christopher Columbus Park, the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, and Copley Square Park and would not apply to the long shadows of early morning or late afternoon. I suppose the devil is in the details and I would anticipate a few reasonable exceptions that may have to be made.
Order #20. That the City Manager is requested to provide a status report to the City Council on traffic safety measures in place at the intersection of Fresh Pond Parkway and Mount Auburn Street. Vice Mayor Seidel
They could start by painting some lanes to guide the traffic on Mt. Auburn as it passes through that intersection. However, all the traffic engineering in the world will likely have minimal effect on those drivers who continue to enter the intersection after the light has turned red. Red light cameras might help a lot. Let's not forget that vote on March 23: Order #20. The City Council go on record supporting red light camera enforcement. Councillor Kelley and Councillor Toomey. Voting in favor: Davis, Kelley, Maher, Seidel, Toomey; voting against: Decker, Reeves, Simmons, Ward. - Robert Winters
Sept 21, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
Tonight's Big Item is the series of votes necessary to seek the Massachusetts Department of Revenue approval for the tax rate for FY2010. As Bob Healy reminds the councillors every year, the City Council does not set the tax rate. They adopt a budget in the spring and then take the required votes on tax classification, allocations from Free Cash and reserves, and on a variety of statutory exemptions. The Mass. Department of Revenue then determines and approves the tax rates based on what was sent by the City, but the end result in usually entirely predicable to the penny. There is a 6:30pm hearing during the meeting to discuss the property tax rate classification.
Every Cambridge resident should read the message submitted by the City Manager for this meeting. There are many lessons contained within. There are other agenda items of note, but everything else pales in comparison. -- Robert Winters
Sept 14, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
The big item on tonight's agenda is the very first item on the City Manager's Agenda - the vote on the Community Preservation Act allocations. When this item came around last year, there was actual discussion among councillors about the appropriateness of the 80%-10%-10% distribution respectively to subsidized housing, open space acquisition, and historic preservation. Regardless how one may feel about what the percentages should be, there is an important issue that doesn't get nearly enough attention. When the CPA surcharge was approved by voters in 2001, the councillors at that time asked for and received assurance from the City Manager that his appointments to the CPA Committee would give the maximum allocation to subsidized housing, and this has been the case every year since, including this year's recommendations. However, there is a general principle in government that an elected body cannot "bind" its successor, and there have been four municipal elections and four new councillors elected (Simmons, Kelley, Seidel, Ward) since that understanding between Manager and Councillors took place. To what degree is that initial understanding still binding? In principle - not at all.
The belief among many who have attended the CPA hearings over the last several years is that they are entirely pro forma and that all decisions have been made prior to the hearings. Typically, the nonprofit housing agencies Just A Start (JAS) and Homeowner's Rehab (HRI) get the word out to people to pack the meetings in favor of giving 80% for housing, but in each of the last few years there has also been a solid presence from people from East Cambridge and the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood who have advocated for more open space acquisition in that part of the city. The stock answer from the CPA Committee and Rich Rossi, Chair of the committee, has been that the City allocates plenty of money from other sources for open space acquisition and related purposes and that it is not necessary that this money come from CPA funds.
A good argument can be made (and I've made this argument myself in public testimony) that as long as the City commits to appropriate allocations for these various competing interests, the decision of how the CPA portion of these funds should be allocated should be based primarily on how much additional money can be leveraged from the matching state funds that come with the CPA. In past years, the money allocated toward subsidized housing did leverage more additional funds than did the other allocations, so the total financial benefit for City-supported projects was optimized by the 80%-10%-10% split. I hope that at least one city councillor will ask the appropriate questions tonight to determine whether the recommended allocations will again be in the best interests of the City or whether the main priority is simply the continued public subsidy of JAS and HRI who, arguably, view CPA funding as an entitlement. The question of how much City-controlled funds should be dedicated toward subsidized housing is another matter, and its answer appears to be slowly evolving. Tonight's discussion may prove enlightening.
Another item that caught my attention was this:
Manager's Agenda #20. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant (Year 2) in the amount of $39,000 to the Grant Fund Library Other Ordinary Maintenance account and will support the purchase of approximately 15 computers which will expand public access to technology throughout the library system.
This translates into $2600 per computer. Has the City visited MicroCenter lately? I'm sitting right now in front of a dandy little PC that cost me $400. With an additional monitor and other goodies, I might have spent as much as $800. Perhaps some thrifty councillor can press the Manager on why it costs three times as much per computer when the money comes from the foundation of the PC Man Himself (Bill Gates). Is this to pay someone's salary? The message from the City Manager only refers to the purchase of the machines.
There also these items that may see a vote tonight:
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from .... the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on June 30, 2009 for the purpose of considering a proposal to amend the Zoning Ordinance to allow wind turbines to be placed in the City of Cambridge. .... Petition expires Sept 28, 2009.
Committee Report #5. A communication was received from .... the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on June 30, 2009 for the purpose of considering a proposal to amend Chapter 8.24 of the Cambridge Municipal Code "Refuse and Litter" and to add a new proposed ordinance Chapter 8.25 "Dumpster Licenses." .... The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Aug 10, 2009.
Committee Report #6. Committee Report from .... the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on July 2, 2009 for the purpose of considering a petition filed by Jean Connor et al. to amend the Zoning Map of Cambridge .... The petition was passed to a Second Reading on July 27, 2009. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Aug 10, 2009. Planning Board hearing held July 7, 2009. Petition expires Sept 30, 2009.
Manager's Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board not to adopt the Connor, et al Petition to rezone an area on the Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge in the vicinity of Garden, Walden, Sherman and Winslow Streets from the current Residence C-1 designation to a Residence B designation.
There are 33 letters protesting the Connor Petition (none supporting it) in the Council materials. The primary point made by the Planning Board in its negative recommendation is that it would render far too many other properties nonconforming.
There are some noteworthy City Council Orders:
Order #2. That the Connor et al. zoning petition to amend the Zoning Map from its current designation as a Residence C-1 to a Residence B District encompassing all or portions of lots on Assessors Plats #205, #206 and #228 including but not limited to those abutting Garden, Winslow, Fenno, Stearns, Esten, Sherman Streets and Upland Road, be re-filed with the City Council upon the expiration of the current petition on Sept 30, 2009, that said re-filed petition be referred to the Planning Board and City Council Ordinance Committee; and that upon adoption of this order, the Ordinance Committee public hearing be advertised and scheduled promptly, with a report back to the City Council as soon as possible. Councillor Maher and Vice Mayor Seidel
One has to speculate whether the same petition is being re-filed (for what purpose?) or whether an alternative zoning petition is being contemplated for this area. Then again, the filing of Zoning Petitions is standard fare in every municipal election year.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the possibility of initiating curbside pickup of food waste. Councillor Davis
This is a good idea, but whether or not it's viable depends on things like cost and the ability to obtain permits for sites for composting of food waste near enough to Cambridge that transportation costs don't break the bank or have a net detrimental environmental effect. In any case, backyard composting remains a simple and effective option for many residents.
Order #19. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the City's plans to help fund the Housing Authorities redevelopment projects, to include any land swaps, loan backing or direct financial assistance. Councillor Kelley
This item is noteworthy simply for the gargantuan scale of what is proposed.
O-19 Sept 14, 2009
- Robert Winters
July 27, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
The City Council will hold its Midsummer meeting this Monday, July 27 and, believe it or not, there are agenda items not relating to real or imagined incidents on Ware Street. (There are also a few Orders on the Most Overblown Story of the Year.)
City Mgr's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 09-67, regarding the potential use by City departments and staff of social networking programs such as Twitter and Facebook.
This sentence sums it up: "Social networking sites on the Internet are not regulated or secure. Information posted on these sites may not be accurate or current. Therefore it is not recommended that they be used for official City business." The one thing the City needs to have is a web person in each and every department who will keep their website fresh, accurate, and useful. Leave twitter to the twits.
Perhaps the most substantial agenda item is the proposal for new taxes:
City Mgr's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the recommendation that the City Council vote to accept G.L. c. 64L, Section 2(a), in order to impose a local meals excise and I further recommend the City Council vote to amend the local room occupancy excise, under G.L. c. 64G, section 3A, to the new rate of 6% from the current rate of 4%.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a meeting held on July 15, 2009 to receive updates on the status of the FY 10 budget particularly with regard to the effects of federal stimulus funding, the state budget and the hotel/motel and meals tax.
If this were any place but Cambridge, a proposal for new taxes would be debated - perhaps fiercely. This proposal will likely pass on a 9-0 vote.
Tabled Item #2. That the City Manager is requested to make available adequate funds to the City Council so that the City Council can hire its own legal expert to review relevant issues in pending litigation.
Nothing new to report, but the City's legal appeal of the case in question continues to make its way through the courts. The underlying political motivations of some councillors and other political players are what continues to make this interesting. Meanwhile, on the Crimson side of town:
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Larry Ward, Chair of the University Relations Committee, for a meeting held on May 20, 2009 to to discuss the committee's agenda for the remainder of the term, Harvard's termination of the leases with Three Aces Pizza on Massachusetts Avenue and the layoffs of low paid workers by Harvard and MIT.
Order #5. The City Council go on record asking Harvard University to be patient, to abstain from these radical employment cuts which will deeply injure the most susceptible members of our community, restore valuable workers, and proceed in alignment with its claim to be a world-wide leader in both the business and educational community. Councillor Ward and Councillor Decker
Order #9. That the City Council recommend that Universities increase their Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) payment by 2%. Councillor Decker
We can always hope that University Relations will some day get back to something other than meddling in internal affairs and begging for cash. The committee reports this week also indicate that Councillors Seidel and Ward now have campaign workers on the City payroll as "aides". With all but one of the other councillors reveling in the joy of political patronage, I suppose you can't blame these councillors for grabbing a piece of the City pie as well. I had hoped for better.
Meanwhile, the Gates-Crowley saga continues and our local political incumbents and aspirants will now have their opportunity to capitalize on the controversy. Will any of them be enjoying a beer with the Cop, the Professor, and the President? I hope they don't feel too left out.
Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to report on the measures being taken to expedite a peaceful resolution to the matter involving the police and Professor Gates. Mayor Simmons
Order #25. That the Cambridge City Council hereby goes on record in support of the statement issued by the City of Cambridge, the Cambridge Police Department and representatives for Professor Gates. Councillor Ward
Order #27. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to report on whether wearing nameplates and badges is still required by Police Officers. Councillor Reeves
The first of these Orders seems like an initial request for a report on what's being done "to expedite a peaceful resolution to this matter", so it appears to be a moot request now that it appears to have been resolved via presidential intervention. The second Order is just a confirmation that the City Council agrees with the dropping of all charges and calling it a day. The third Order is just an inquiry but, along with the other two Orders and the feeding frenzy we've been subjected to for the last ten days, political speeches should be in no short supply on Monday night - especially with the likelihood of news cameras at the meeting.
The question that will likely not be answered and which probably won't even be addressed on Monday is what effect this controversy will have on public safety. Will someone now think twice about calling in a suspected break-in or other crime? The witness who made the initial phone call was named in police reports and brutalized in blog comments for doing what she thought was the right thing. Do you think she'll make a call again? Does anyone seriously believe that reports of suspected break-ins will not drop as a result of this, especially in cases where an alleged perpetrator is identifiable in any way that might lead to accusations of racial profiling? - Robert Winters
June 29, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
This is the last City Council meeting before the summer break. (The next meetings will be on July 27 and Sept 14.) Significant agenda items include:
City Mgr's Agenda #4: A Planning Board recommendation on the Vehicle-sharing Parking Facilities Petition (which today means ZipCar but which could involve other companies in the future).
City Mgr's Agenda #6: A proposed Home Rule Petition to be submitted to the State Legislature entitled "An Act Relative to the Provision of Services to the City of Cambridge by the Cambridge Energy Alliance". [Follow the link for the complete text of the Home Rule Petition.]
On the Table #2: That the City Manager is requested to make available adequate funds to the City Council so that the City Council can hire its own legal expert to review relevant issues in pending litigation.
This matter is still not resolved and this could be taken from the table and taken up if there are five votes to do it (and there won't be further discussion about it - except on the campaign trail - until the next meeting at the end of July).
Order #2. That the City Council go on record requesting that the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy maintain the existing State laws governing cable licensing, which adequately protect cities and towns, residents of the Commonwealth by defeating House Bill No.3765 and Senate Bill No.1531, An Act Promoting Consumer Choice and Competition. Councillor Davis
This Order would oppose a bill promoted by Verizon that aims to minimize the cable licensing process and, some would argue, give Verizon a competitive advantage over Comcast. The current process now obliges Comcast to provide funding for local cable access provider CCTV, and its Executive Director Susan Fleischmann has been making the case that Verizon should have to fulfill similar obligations. Lest anyone try to portray Verizon as the bad guy and Comcast as the good guy, it's worth noting that Comcast just sent out a letter to its analog cable customers informing them that their service is about to be "enhanced" to the "World of More." What Comcast means by the "World of More" is that analog cable customers will be seeing their cable TV bills quadruple this October or else have most of their stations disappear when Comcast will eliminate its analog cable option. Comcast has mastered Orwellian language. They actually say they will enhance your cable TV package by eliminating service and dramatically increasing the cost of service. Welcome to the World of More. - Robert Winters
June 22, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
It is expected that the Lesley/Porter zoning proposal will be voted at this meeting. There has been plenty of public comment on the proposal - both in support and in opposition. The related landmarking of the former North Prospect Church at Roseland and Mass. Ave. is also expected be taken up.
There was an aborted attempt at the last meeting to take off the Table the item (#3 this week) that requests "to make available adequate funds to the City Council so that the City Council can hire its own legal expert to review relevant issues in pending litigation." The item also includes Councillor Toomey's substitute motion, and both relate to the matter before last week's Executive Session that lasted more than two hours. I expect there will be another attempt to take up this matter this Monday or next week - the last meeting before the summer recess. A simple majority is required to take any item from the Table and there appeared to be five votes last week to take up this matter except that one member was absent at the time of the vote, and a motion to reconsider the vote failed. If the matter is taken up, things could get very contentious.
Speaking of contentious, there's this:
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to review whether the City of Cambridge, including the Cambridge Retirement System, has any investments in which Evergreen Investment Management Company and its affiliates are involved, and is further requested to divest itself of any such investments that may exist, and to report back to the City Council on his findings at the City Council Meeting on July 27, 2009. Councillor Toomey
What makes this Order interesting is the fact that one of the vice-presidents of the company named in the Order apparently just co-authored a commentary in "America's oldest weekly newspaper" ripping into the City Manager and all nine city councillors over the matter of the City's AAA bond rating. These co-authors imply in their screed that the City is being mismanaged by its "reprehensible" city manager. This is an interesting charge coming from someone in the leadership of a company that just shelled out over $40 million to settle charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission on top of a previous $32.5 million settlement (according to the statement of Order #4). It is worth noting that the aforementioned vice-president is a resident of East Cambridge who reportedly intends to run for a Cambridge City Council seat this year. This could be an interesting election season.
The meeting agenda is actually quite short, but with the zoning vote and one or two potentially incendiary items, there may be a good show Monday night. - Robert Winters
June 15, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights (and a few other observations)
I had an opportunity several days ago to run through the new Main Library building, and it really is spectacular. It won't be open for a while yet, but this is sure to be one of the grandest of all civic spaces in Cambridge. Not only is the new addition breathtaking, the restoration of the main reading room in the old building would make Frederick Hastings Rindge quite pleased about what the current City leadership has done to honor his remarkable gift. The landscaping outside the library is shaping up to be more beautiful than I could ever have imagined.
It's now just a little more than two weeks until the official kickoff of the biennial local political season when candidates can pull nomination papers for City Council and School Committee (Wed, July 1). With the pulling of papers also comes the summer recess from City Council and School Committee meetings. In the meantime, here are some items of interest on this week's agenda:
City Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a request for the City Council to vote to move to Executive Session immediately following the conclusion of public comment for the purpose of discussing litigation.
This almost certainly relates to:
Tabled Item #2. That the City Manager is requested to make available adequate funds to the City Council so that the City Council can hire its own legal expert to review relevant issues in pending litigation.
The matter at hand continues to be what happens next in the City's appeal of last year's curious jury decision in the Monteiro v. City of Cambridge case. In addition to the financial considerations and what strategies may now be appropriate, there is some evidence of political gamesmanship among some of the councillors as they try to capitalize on the situation for political ends. The opportunism doesn't stop at those councillors, of course. There are also political puppeteers trying to capitalize on the case - people who have contributed nothing toward the city or its citizens and have nothing but disrespect for all of our elected officials and everyone in the City administration. Criticism of elected officials and of those who manage the city is fair game (I do it myself now and again), but these words have little meaning when spoken by those who have contributed nothing.
It's anyone's guess how long the Executive Session will last this time, nor does the agenda give any indication whether the substance of Tabled Item #2 will be part of that discussion.
There are five more citizen letters of support for the proposed Lesley/Porter Overlay District zoning petition which is expected to be voted at the June 22 meeting.
Among the City Council Orders, the first one stands out:
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the potential use by City departments and staff of social networking programs such as Twitter and Facebook. Councillor Kelley
The Manager's response on a related Order last week makes one wonder if Councillor Kelley was even listening. Councillor Decker, the City Manager, and one department head took Councillor Kelley to school at that meeting on the topic of City programs making good use of listservs and of the potential perils of using other "social networking" devices. I expect we'll be hearing additional lessons directed at Councillor Kelley by his colleagues at this meeting. My suggestion is that when they start talking about this topic everyone should call the City Council phone number or pummel them with text messages.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Cambridge Police Department and the Department of Human Services to convene a series of meetings with the Civic Unity Committee immediately in Jefferson Park and invite the surrounding neighbors to discuss the Boston Globe article concerning violence in the neighborhood - the goal of the meeting is to provide a forum to listen to resident concerns, provide current information and resources available to help promote a safe and healthy neighborhood. Councillor Decker
Two weeks ago, an Order from Councillor Decker regarding banning the use of cell phones while driving was referred to the Civic Unity Committee rather than to the more appropriate Ordinance Committee. There's a meeting of the Civic Unity Committee on July 1 "to explore the possibility of creating small scale solar panels that would enable the powering of small household items." Now comes another Order calling for the Civic Unity Committee to take up a matter that seems more appropriately referred to the Public Safety Committee. Are the functions of these City Council committees completely arbitrary?
There are other items of interest on the agenda, but we'll leave it at that for now and wait to see what, if anything, comes out of the Executive Session on Monday night. Election year politics can be ever so ridiculous. - Robert Winters
June 8, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
There not a whole lot on the agenda this week. Perhaps the meatiest item is the pending ordination of the zoning amendment for the Lesley Porter Overlay District. All 15 of the Communications are from residents expressing their points of view both for and against the proposed zoning change. The City Council has until the end of the month to vote on this (the last meeting before the summer break is June 29), and though there are few outstanding issues, the Ordinance Committee report on the matter indicates that the vote on ordination will likely take place at the June 22 City Council meeting. There's also a new zoning petition received from Jean Connor, et al., requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Map from its current designation as a Residence C-1 to a Residence B District in the area of Garden, Winslow, Fenno, Stearns, Esten, Sherman Streets and Upland Road. This was the subject of much public comment last week.
Of the Council Orders, the only one that jumps out is Order #8 from Councillor Decker that proposes a smoking ban in all Cambridge public parks. The complete text of the order is:
O-8 June 8, 2009
You would be hard-pressed to find anyone more anti-smoking than me, so I'm not so alarmed by this Order. However, there is a certain irony in how this City Council raises red flags about the perceived infringement of civil liberties with surveillance cameras and red light enforcement cameras, yet they may embrace a ban on this relatively benign activity in public parks which are, dare I suggest, rather well ventilated. I think it's fair to characterize the second hand smoke argument offered here as "just blowing smoke." - Robert Winters
June 1, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
The 800 pound gorilla in the room this week is the unresolved matter of the Council's challenge of the City Manager over continuing legal action after the recent jury decision in the case of Monteiro v. City of Cambridge. When the FY2010 Budget was voted at the May 18 City Council meeting, Councillor Kelley moved that the portion of the Law Department budget that covers the cost for outside legal counsel not be approved. After the City Manager pointed out that this Budget is used for a range of activities having nothing to do with this specific case, the motion was defeated on a 4-4-1 vote with Councillors Kelley, Reeves, Seidel, and Simmons voting YES; Councillors Davis, Maher, Toomey, and Ward voting NO; and Councillor Decker voting to ABSTAIN. While the ultimate intentions of Councillor Decker are unknown, she is to be congratulated for preventing this reckless action.
The matter didn't stop there. There was still Order #2 by Councillors Kelley, Simmons, and Reeves (such good friends) which stated: "That the City Manager is requested to make available adequate funds to the City Council so that the City Council can hire its own legal expert to review relevant issues in pending litigation." Anyone familiar with the Plan E Charter knows that the City Council is prohibited from directly engaging in personnel matters, so this Order is highly problematic. Unstated in the Order was how a Council not known for its mutuality might actually decide on legal counsel. There is also the question of what would happen if the Council's counsel (sorry, couldn't resist) radically disagreed with the opinion of the City's Law Department.
It is the proper role for the City Council to establish general policies not particular to any specific case, and that includes legal and employment matters. They can do this by an Order (really a formal request) or by Ordinance (such as when they establish a commission with staff - arguably the reason we find ourselves in this mess in the first place). Councillor Toomey, to his credit, understands the Charter and the potential hazards of publicly discussing pending litigation. He introduced a Substitute Order which referred the matter to the City Solicitor for a legal opinion. After an extended Executive Session, the Council unanimously voted to table both the original Order and Toomey's substitute. That matter could be taken up this week and more Executive Sessions will surely follow. Meanwhile the City has filed an appeal of the most recent court ruling now that post-trial motions appear to have run their course.
This is probably not the place to go into the whole history of the Monteiro v. City of Cambridge case, but since the newspaper reports have been so thoroughly lacking, there are a few things that should be stated. Malvina Monteiro was the Executive Director of the Cambridge Police Review & Advisory Board (PRAB) which was established by a 1984 ordinance. The job of the executive director was established as a full-time job with duties that were part-time at best. At some point, perhaps out of boredom or a desire to move up, Monteiro enrolled as a full-time student at Tufts while still working "full-time" at the PRAB. She also sought a City scholarship. When she did not receive the scholarship, she filed a joint (racial) discrimination complaint (1998) along with Marian Hampton (Library Dept.) and Mary Wong (Kid's Council). At the time of the discrimination complaint, the City Manager stated that the City must on occasion "take corrective action when performance and expectations are not met. In those cases we attempt, whenever possible, to work with the employee to improve performance. . . . If that is not successful, disciplinary action may be required."
By early 1999, Linda Stamper of the City's Law Dept. joined the complaint. Eventually, several others joined the complaint that was being pursued by lawyer Ellen Zucker, formerly the president of the Boston Chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW). [As a side note, Zucker's spouse is Ellen Clegg who was until recently the deputy managing editor for news operations for the Boston Globe and previously served as the editor of the Globe's City Weekly.] Florencia LaChance who briefly worked for the City as Manager of Employment Services also joined the complaint.
The City filed for Summary Judgment and in February 2003 a Justice of the Superior Court ruled that the LaChance and Hampton complaints should be dismissed. However the Wong, Monteiro, and Stamper cases were allowed to proceed through the legal system. By this time, the Monteiro complaint also included a charge of retaliation (she was fired) for having filed the original complaint. Consequently a jury failed to reach a verdict in the Monteiro case, but a subsequent jury trial led to a May 23, 2008 award of $962,400 in back and front pay and damages, $100,000 for emotional distress, and (ch-ching!) $3,500,000 in punitive damages. The City, of course, filed motions challenging this jury award. Nonetheless, in April 2009 a different Superior Court judge denied the City's motion. This only sets the stage for an appeal to a higher court. The question that is now being tossed about and politicized is whether the City should pay the judgment even if it is believed to be excessive and improper and avoid any future legal costs. The Stamper complaint and the Wong complaint (Wong is still Exec. Director of the Kid's Council) are still pending. [By the way, I'm a mathematician and not a lawyer, so please forgive (or correct) any misinterpretations of all the legal mumbo-jumbo.]
There are other policy aspects to this matter that should be discussed by the City Council but will almost certainly not be discussed. The administrative functions of the Police Review & Advisory Board were merged with the Human Rights Commission several years ago. Both commissions were established by ordinance in 1984 and always had overlapping functions. This administrative consolidation should have happened long ago, and it can be argued that such a consolidation may have prevented the conditions that led to the Monteiro case in the first place. It is, after all, not so easy to attend a full-time college program when you have actual work responsibilities. At the recent Budget hearings, Councillor Seidel indirectly asked about consolidation of some of the City boards and commissions but them quickly retreated when the City administration expressed interest in the concept. It is a fact that some City commissions (such as the Peace Commission) have become sacred cows whose purpose is rarely questioned by elected officials even though their functions are often vague and could easily be absorbed into other City departments.
Enough said about the 800 pound gorilla. Back to the rest of the agenda:
City Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 09-53, regarding a report on the status of the Malik Academy lease.
Order #13. That the City Council go on record asking Winn Management and Homeowners Rehab, Inc. to respond immediately to the City Council on their decision to provide Malik Academy, at the very least, a short-term resolution allowing for the continued operation of the pre-school and the child-care facilities for the next school year. Councillor Decker and Councillor Reeves
Normally, an item like this wouldn't even attract my attention. However, at the previous Council meeting there was much public comment on this topic and most of it suggested some kind of unfair treatment of this religious school. It was especially interesting to note that in spite of suggestions by councillors and during public comment that the loss of Malik Academy would be a blow to Cambridge pre-school facilities, the new tenant will be another pre-school. According to the response from Homeowner's Rehab (HRI), Malik Academy was given a temporary sweet deal at $15/sq. ft. and were asked to pay $16/sq. ft., something that should have been no surprise since they were aware at the original signing that they should expect a small increase. When the time came to sign a new lease, they insisted on a decrease. None of this was mentioned at the previous Council meeting. In the end, HRI rented the space to another pre-school at $22/sq. ft.
City Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 09-51, regarding a report on the status of the Harvard Senior Picnic. [The Harvard Senior Picnic, which is hosted by the Mayor's Office in conjunction with Harvard University, is scheduled to go forward as planned on Wed, July 29, 2009.]
Again, this item should barely warrant being noticed, but the ALARM expressed at the previous Council meeting was noteworthy. Skeptics other than me have suggested that the real purpose of this event is for local political candidates to work the captive crowd in their relentless quest for votes from a population (senior citizens) who can generally be counted on to vote in local elections. If you've even witnessed this event, you will understand the skepticism.
Tabled Item #2. That the City Manager is requested to make available adequate funds to the City Council so that the City Council can hire its own legal expert to review relevant issues in pending litigation. [Tabled on motion of Councillor Davis Order Number Two of May 18, 2009 together with motion to amend by substitution submitted by Councillor Toomey.]
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to explore the possibility of banning the use of cell phones and text messaging while driving in Cambridge. Councillor Decker
Excellent idea, but unfortunately superseded by state law that permits cell phone use while driving. Fortunately, recent events have motivated the glacial state legislature to ban text messaging while driving. Why anyone would vote to permit this dangerous practice at all is beyond comprehension. Then again, you can't legislative stupidity away.
Order #5. Urge Governor Deval Patrick to issue an executive order requiring all new homes and businesses to be zero net energy buildings by 2030. Councillor Davis
This is part of a group of three Orders from Council Davis in this same spirit. A definition of "zero net energy buildings" would be helpful.
Order #9. Urge the Cambridge Legislative Delegation and Governor Patrick to support and vote in favor of updating the Massachusetts Container Beverage Law. Councillor Davis
This is also a good intention and probably a net positive idea, but there is an inefficiency in asking residents to schlep additional containers to supermarkets and redemption centers when they can just put them out in their recycling bins. Many will do just that, so the great beneficiaries of this proposal will be the scavengers raiding residential set-outs for deposit bottles. We can only hope that the survival and expansion and redemption centers are factored into this proposed law. For those of us who already recycle to the maximum extent, this change is actually a net inconvenience. - Robert Winters
May 18, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
The central item of business is the vote on the FY2010 Budget. Even though this was supposed to be "a tough budget year," this year's Budget sailed through the Finance Committee's budget hearings like green corn goes through the new May. The Council will likely take up the Budget vote (Committee Reports #1-3) early in the meeting before taking up the rest of the agenda. There are a few other items of interest, such as:
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to make available adequate funds to the City Council so that the City Council can hire its own legal expert to review relevant issues in pending litigation. Councillor Kelley, Mayor Simmons and Councillor Reeves
This is a serious Order with potentially serious consequences. The City is dealing with the consequences of a jury decision to award an absurd amount of money to a former City employee (Malvina Monteiro) who went fishing for cash and reeled in a big one. The City appealed the jury decision, but the latest appeal was denied. Other lawsuits against the City filed by the same lawyer (Ellen Zucker) are waiting in the wings and the City is continuing to spend cash for outside legal counsel in the Monteiro case. Some city councillors have suggested that the City should just pay out this ridiculous jury award, cut its losses, and not pursue any further appeals. The City Manager has stated that he has no intention of paying a dime toward a legal decision he and others in his administration feel is without merit.
One has to wonder how this City Council would go about deciding who its "legal expert" would be if this Order were to pass. Would Councillors Kelley, Simmons, and Reeves make the call? Could there be five votes for someone they could all agree on? The truth is that we have a City Solicitor who is a good lawyer who is very well-versed in the Monteiro case as well as the other pending cases, and it's likely that the city councillors heard an earful at last week's Executive Session on this matter. Could it be that the 3 sponsors of this Order simply didn't like what they heard in Executive Session? It will be VERY interesting to see if this Order gets 5 votes in its current form.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to disseminate information to bicyclists through various methods of communication reminding them of the "rules of the road" pertaining to bicycles and that their adherence is important to the safety of motorists, pedestrians and fellow cyclists. Vice Mayor Seidel
Been there, done that.
Order #9. That the City Manager and the Mayor are requested to report to the Council on the status of the Harvard Senior Picnic. Councillor Decker
It should be pointed out that the Harvard Senior Picnic has always been a prime campaign spot for City Council and School Committee candidates. Heaven forbid that the rumor turns out to be true and the picnic is not held this year. Perhaps Harvard could lay off a janitor or two to cover the costs of the picnic. - RW
May 11, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
City Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the Lesley University zoning petition to extend the boundaries of the Business C zoning district in Porter Square and create a new Lesley Porter Overlay District.
This item is noteworthy only because the Planning Board "enthusiastically" favors the petition. You don't usually get such an emphatic statement from the Planning Board. The Porter Square Neighbors Association (PSNA) has been generally supportive of most of the proposed changes, at least from what I've seen on their listserv messages. What seems to be driving this enthusiasm is the relocation of the Art Institute of Boston (part of Lesley University) to the Porter Square area with the hope that this will positively change the character of the area. The option of restoring the stockyards was not discussed. Art is the new beef.
City Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative the Final Landmark Designation Study Report for the Shell Spectacular Sign at 187 Magazine Street at the corner of Memorial Drive.
I'm a local history buff - as anyone who's seen my bookshelves will attest. That said, I'm not quite to the point of viewing a gas station sign as an historic landmark. The Cambridge Historical Commission has a 24 page report on the landmarking of the sign. The irony is that if some commercial enterprise (particularly a multinational corporation) were to today propose erecting such a sign in Cambridge, it would likely be fiercely opposed.
City Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 09-38, regarding a report on methods and policies that are in place to guarantee that all residents have equal access to city information and services.
Order #19. Urge the Massachusetts Legislative Delegation to be aware of the need for universal broadband access for all members of the public and the elimination of the digital divide. Councillor Davis
These items are noteworthy primarily because of their partial nonresponse to the Order of the previous meeting. That order primarily addressed the fact that some people choose to obtain information via methods other than Internet access either because of disability or personal preference. The Manager's response essentially says that you can read Legal Notices in the Cambridge Chronicle, go to a computer at a public library or other City facility, or read the semiannual CityView newsletter. This is all well and good, but I believe the real point of the original Order was to ensure that residents can get a verbal or mailed response to any reasonable information request made to any City department. Regarding Councillor Davis' Order, it would be interesting to see what the latest figures are on the "digital divide" in Cambridge. I suspect that many of those whom Davis wants to reach are already twittering away on their cellphones and texting their way down the streets and sidewalks of Cambridge. It's no longer a matter of who can open a browser and surf the web.
City Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 09-17, regarding a report on the possibility of creating a publicly accessible, appropriately confidential database of broad average or median neighborhood rents for retail space.
Though I was skeptical about Councillor Seidel's original Order on this, the information that came back from Director of Assessment Robert Reardon is actually quite interesting. Here it is:
One has to wonder who's paying $140/sq. ft. in Harvard Square and who's paying $9/sq. ft. in Cambridgeport and North Cambridge. Other information I would love to have is the differential in rents between premium street frontage and the side streets and back streets in places like Central Square. I've always felt that all commercial districts in Cambridge would fare better if the back streets and side streets were better developed for businesses that cannot afford top dollar rents on the main drag. There really is room for everyone.
Charter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, Awaiting Report Item Number 08-141, regarding a report on the possibility of awarding points to affordable housing applicants based on the number of times an applicant has applied for housing. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Maher on City Manager Agenda Number Four of Apr 27, 2009.]
There is something perverse about this. In an ideal world, access to publicly-subsidized affordable housing should be based on need and suitability of the tenant for a given housing situation. Why should "the number of times an applicant has applied" be a criteria at all? It seems that this only creates an incentive for people to apply early and often in order to get a better position in the pecking order. It seems that affordable housing programs (and other initiatives) are already subject to abuse by those who are less than perfectly honest about their income and need. This will not improve things to create other ways to game the system.
Resolution #26. Congratulations to Laura Nichols on the occasion of being appointed to the position of Executive Director of the Cambridge Consumers’ Council. Councillor Davis
I note this Resolution only to again say what a great guy former Executive Director (and now gentleman farmer) Paul Schlaver is and that his successor Laura Nichols is cut from the same cloth as Paul. I have often heard tales from residents of how helpful the Cambridge Consumer's Council has been.
Resolution #28. Thanks to the Central Square Restaurant Association participants for their successful Central Square Clean Up on May 3, 2009. Councillor Davis
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Commissioner of Public Works to increase the cleaning efforts in Carl Barron Plaza, as well as other benches and areas in Central Square where liquor bottles, cigarette butts and other forms of trash are routinely discarded and render benches unclean and unusable. Mayor Simmons
Order #10. That the City council urge the License Commission to consider requiring all licensed establishments to be responsible for cleaning the cigarette butts and packaging in front of their business or risk being fined. Mayor Simmons
Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Commissioner of Public Works to direct DPW crews collecting trash to clean out the trash and debris that collects and rots in the metal trash cage the supports the barrel. Mayor Simmons
These Resolutions and Orders all seem to have grown out of the recent First Annual Clean Cambridge Spring Cleanup. It's worth noting that this wasn't really the "first" such cleanup. I participated in a very significant Central Square cleanup with City Year volunteers about ten years ago in which we did a lot of graffiti removal in addition to a general cleanup. After this year's efforts there was a noticeable improvement in Central Square, but it took no time before the slovenly smokers clogged up everything with their detritus. Would it be so difficult for the bars and restaurants to hire or assign someone to clean up after their patrons?
On a related note, our dear friends at the Department of Public Works really should methodically move up and down Mass. Ave. in Central Square restoring or removing the steel grates at the base of all the trees. They are a trip hazard now and really serve no useful function. While there, this would be a good time to systematically repair the brick sidewalks and replace the hundreds of missing bricks.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of Traffic, Parking and Transportation to determine whether metered parking spaces in the East Cambridge residential streets can be converted to residential parking due to the decrease in courthouse traffic and increase in residential units. Councillor Toomey
This Order will likely be filed in the same wastebasket that Traffic Director Susan Clippinger uses to file all of Councillor Toomey's Orders. It's a shame, really, because there are many simple fixes that could be made to make everyone's life easier. Parking meters were installed in front of the old Longfellow School building across from my house when the Main Library moved there. The Library's now gone, but the meters remain. Virtually all of the businesses on my side of Broadway are now residences or vacant, yet the meters remain. In Somerville, they have many metered areas where residents with stickers can park for free - an excellent compromise, especially for those who wish to use metered spaces just for overnight parking without having to move their cars at 8am. It sure would be nice if Cambridge could be as smart as Somerville. While we're on the subject, whatever happened to Councillor Toomey's request that the state-mandated Cambridge Traffic Board be appointed that would be empowered to review regulations made by the Traffic Director? Inconvenience is no excuse for ignoring the law, even for department heads.
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to create a position for a Green Streets Coordinator to continue the coordination of the program currently performed by Janie Katz-Christy in recent years which has created a sustainable initiative that is being replicated around the world. Mayor Simmons
I'm all for Green Streets and sustainability 'n stuff, but isn't this the wrong time to be creating new positions in a bad economy?
Order #14. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to consider a cost benefit analysis for refurbishing the former bath-house at Corporal Burns Park so that it might draw income for the city and simultaneously provide valuable service to residents and visitors to the park. Mayor Simmons
As long as Mayor Simmons is talking only about a park-related use, this is a lot better proposal than what former City Councillor Ed Cyr and others proposed in the early 90's. Back then their bright idea was to create a "Land Bank" of properties on which, you guessed it, affordable housing could be built. Included in the proposal was the building in Corporal Burns Park as well as all sorts of other small parcels around the city. Those were the great days of the CCA's penchant for "solutions in search of a problem." Thankfully, that trial balloon crashed. Unfortunately, a decade later the City sponsors the development of housing on any postage-stamp parcel it can deliver to its nonprofit partners. Would it it be so dreadful just to leave a few undeveloped square feet of land here and there around the city? Must everything be built over?
Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate city departments to increase the City’s responses to a scale proportionate to the emergency and consistent with the city’s own Climate Protection goals for 2010 and beyond. Councillor Decker, Councillor Toomey and Councillor Davis
Rumor has it that quite a few people intend to speak on this Order. At the risk of infuriating my environmentally conscious comrades, the vagueness of this Order worries me. It highlights the rise in greenhouse gases and calls for a "response proportionate to the emergency." This could be interpreted to mean that the ability to own and operate an automobile in Cambridge should be made dramatically more expensive (even if you only occasionally drive), and that every little change made to your home should go through an onerous and expensive regulatory review. Everyone who lived through Cambridge's rent control decades remembers how the claim of a housing emergency was twisted into a justification for oppressive and often idiotic regulations that were, in fact, politically motivated. I want very much to see good environmental initiatives in Cambridge, but I remain extremely wary of any effort to use a perceived "emergency" as an excuse for carrying out an agenda that will likely have very political overtones. The efforts of the Cambridge Energy Alliance seem the far more appropriate way to proceed, i.e. provide financial incentives and technical assistance for people "to do the right thing." - Robert Winters
April 27, 2009 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
Without question, the most significant item on tonight's agenda is the submission of the FY2010 Budget (City Manager's Agenda #1). The annual Budget Hearings of the City Council's Finance Committee will commence this Thursday, April 30 at 9:30am. Here is a list of the items I found interesting, important, or ridiculous:
Reconsideration #1. Reconsideration filed by Councillor Reeves on the adoption of Order Number Thirteen of Apr 13, 2009 requesting the City Council convey its wishes for the continuing publication of The Boston Globe to the publishers of The Boston Globe.
Apparently, Councillor Reeves wants the Boston Globe to die a painful death along with the Cambridge Chronicle and any other media outlet who has failed to meet his high standards of professional ethics. This Order passed at the Council's April 13 meeting, but Councillor Reeves would like another bite at the apple. The political cynics among us might observe that it has been Mr. Reeves' political modus operandi to always identify someone or something as his biannual evil entity around which he can rally his campaign. This is really the game of Al Vellucci who would rail endlessly against Harvard University while at the same time have dinner with then Harvard President Derek Bok. In 2007, Reeves' game focused on the Cambridge Chronicle (and others) as persecutors of his noble reign as mayor. We'll have to wait and see who he designates as this year's political bad guy. The Boston Globe? Cambridge Chronicle? Cambridge Health Alliance? Harvard University?
City Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the FY2010 submitted budget and appropriation orders.
The FY10 Budget Book will be available after all the city councillors get their copies. It will also be available online, and it's always worth the read. Comparison with previous years' budgets is a good exercise, especially now that things are tighter in the current economic climate.
City Manager's Agenda #15. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow $14,290,000 to continue sewer projects in the Harvard Square, Agassiz, and Alewife Watershed areas of the City.
Perhaps not so interesting to everyone, but this is the stuff that keeps a city running and, say what you will about the City Manager, one legacy of Robert Healy will be a dramatically improved infrastructure in Cambridge.
City Manager's Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 09-25, regarding a report on the installation of black fire hydrants in West Cambridge.
This grew out of an Order from Councillor Decker which apparently sought to find fault in the City's infrastructure in the wake of a serious house fire on Lexington Avenue. See note above. In any case, it's interesting information.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on what efforts can be done to increase the number of Cambridge businesses and institutions that compost. Vice Mayor Seidel
I'm not so sure that this City Council Order will accomplish anything other than to distract Recycling Director Randy Mail from the great job she's been doing to promote organics recycling in Cambridge. For your information, the possibility of residential curbside organics recycling is on the table for future contracts for recycling collection and processing. Whether or not it happens anytime soon is a matter of relative cost.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on methods and policies that are in place to guarantee that all residents have equal access to city information and services. Vice Mayor Seidel
The rationale behind this Order is to ensure that City officials do not simply say "it's on the web" as the final word in response to requests for information by Cambridge residents. This is a valid point - not everyone has web access, and many simply prefer to get information verbally or in print. It's abundantly clear that widespread access to web-based resources has dramatically increased the ability to deliver detailed information to residents, but there's the risk (and the reality) that some officials will use this in order to avoid assisting those with reasonable (and sometimes unreasonable) requests. I would liken this to the development of paved roads that made transportation much faster but which has often made things more difficult for pedestrians and cyclists. The information superhighway should not eclipse other avenues of communication.
Order #8. That the City Council request that the City Manager consider the possibility of establishing multi-sector (public, private, and university) partnership that funds a 24 Hour Drop-In Center to provide a variety of essential services to individuals on the street. Mayor Simmons
..... which will, of course, be located in Central Square and further secure its future as the City's favorite dumping ground.
Order #12. That the City Council go on record as urging the Cambridge Legislative Delegation to work to enact a municipal relief bill that allows local option taxes and closes the telecommunications property tax loopholes that give the telephone company a $50 million tax break. Councillor Davis
Translation: Councillor Davis would like to raise your taxes. This Order will likely pass on a unanimous vote. - Robert Winters
April 13, 2009 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
There's not much to be said about the April 13 City Council Agenda. They'll have to do something with the Decker-Reeves farcical Order (Charter Right #1) to provide a City "stimulus package" to Harvard and MIT, but my guess is that they'll just let it fade away or refer it to the University Relations Committee to be properly buried. There's a more adult Order #12 from Councillors Davis and Ward on this week's agenda that speaks to the same issue:
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to urge Harvard, MIT and other businesses to use the progressive practice of asking for concessions from all employees at all levels before resorting to layoffs of the lowest paid workers. Councillor Davis and Councillor Ward
The Order also calls for referring this to the University Relations Committee, the only Council committee which has yet to meet even one time this Council term. It would seem that this City Council would prefer to lob grenades at Harvard and MIT rather than actually have any meaningful discussions with university representatives.
I'd love to see the Council do something in response to Councillor Kelley's Order #4:
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council prior to the final June meeting on the City's plans to enforce relevant laws about noise from motorcycles and loud cars. Councillor Kelley
Of course we've been down this road before - and it always leads nowhere. Expect at least one councillor to suggest that cracking down on ear-splitting car sound systems would be an infringement on cultural rights and civil liberties. - Robert Winters
April 6, 2009: March 30 and April 6 City Council Agenda Highlights and other Notes from the Peoples Republic
The March 30 City Council meeting was recessed at the start in order that members could attend the School Superintendent dog and pony show at CRLS, i.e. the first of two School Committee meetings on consecutive days which should lead to the selection of a Superintendent of Schools. The agenda of the April 6 City Council meeting includes all of the March 30 items plus a number of new items. The three Superintendent finalists are Dr. Mary C. Nash, currently the Academic Superintendent for the Boston Public Schools; Dr. Carolyn L. Turk, currently Deputy Superintendent of the Cambridge Public Schools; and Dr. Jeffrey M. Young, currently Superintendent of the Newton Public Schools. [Update: Mayor Simmons announced at the beginning of the April 6 City Council meeting that the choice is now down to two candidates - Carolyn Turk and Jeffrey Young. The School Committee will go into Executive Session at its meeting on April 7 at 6:00pm at CRLS in order to deliberate. They are then expected to emerge at some point and vote in open session to choose the next Superintendent of Schools.]
I have not followed the current Superintendent drama as it has developed over the last several months, primarily because watching this School Committee is like listening to the sound of fingernails scratching a chalkboard (OK, maybe just some of the School Committee members have this effect). There's also the "process junkie" problem common to all too many decisions in Cambridge. Elected officials strive for the appearance of public input - whether or not they're actually listening. Then there's the "consensus" goal common to Green Party aficionados like Luc Schuster. Add to one School Committee member's need to come across as technically proficient as she cherry-picks data to serve her agenda and you have all the ingredients of a very bad movie. Sometimes I think we'd be better off if the School Committee just disappeared into a back room with a box of cigars and came out with an announcement of who they're hiring. As a taxpayer, my greatest concern is that the School Committee may have voted to piss away $100,000 for a search process that was just political cover for a decision they had already made before the search began. We may learn the answer on Tuesday (April 7).
I attended the first of the two Superintendent candidate forums, and I'm sure we'll do just fine with any of the three candidates. However, it was abundantly clear at the Monday night forum that an effort to pack the hall with supporters of Carolyn Turk had been undertaken. In a time when the race of the person to be hired should be less of a factor, it is quite clear that there are some who would make it a primary criterion. For example, former CRLS teacher Larry Aaronson had an Op-Ed in the Cambridge Chronicle titled, "Cambridge School Committee vote is classic affirmative action in the best sense". Comments on the Chronicle website (11 as of this writing) are all signed by anonymous pseudonyms, and all of them are shilling for their preferred candidate. There's also a copy of an e-mail message from School Committee member Marc McGovern on the Chronicle blog that hints at the overwhelming pressure being directed at those who will vote on this. This "classic affirmative action in the best sense" to which Aaronson refers may well lead to accusations of either tokenism or racism by the time the vote is taken, and one thing I would say about Cambridge is that elected officials always tend to run for political cover whenever anything with potential racial overtones comes up.
Here are a few noteworthy items from tonight's combined agenda:
City Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining the rare distinction of being one of approximately twenty-four municipalities in the United States with three Triple A ratings from the nation's three major credit rating agencies.
Resolution #19. Congratulations to the City Manager and his fiscal staff for achieving a Triple A bond rating for the City of Cambridge for the tenth consecutive year. Councillor Toomey, Councillor Maher
It's the same story every year, but it's still worth noting that the City's good fiscal health makes many things possible that other cities cannot afford.
City Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Peter Sheinfeld as a Cambridge Election Commission for a 4-year term to expire Mar 31, 2013.
City Manager's Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a $50,000 Grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative's (MTC) Clean Energy Choice program to the Public Investment Grant Fund Public Works Extraordinary Expenditures account. This grant will provide funding to install two 2 kilowatt PV systems on the roof of the DPW Frazier Administration building and the Frisoli Youth Center.
I find this noteworthy primarily as an indication of a slow but sure trend in the City toward environmentally smart initiatives. There was a day when even establishing a recycling program was seen as a radical change in the City. Now we're talking about photovoltaics on DPW buildings, LEEDS-certified buildings, citywide energy conservation programs, and even the possibility of organics recycling (for composting).
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the process that will allow additional cable and internet providers to do business in the City, and to clarify if there are any obstacles in place that may need to be re-evaluated in order to provide competitive options to residents. Councillor Toomey and Councillor Davis
This Order is similar to other Orders that have come before and gone nowhere. One thing that's different now is that a wider range of TV programming need no longer come into homes via coaxial cable, and Internet access is now becoming available in other ways. One thing not mentioned in this Order is the fact that with the switch to digital broadcasting, there is the capacity to have MANY more programming options available "over the air" with quality reception. For example, there is no reason whatsoever why C-SPAN could not be made available for free to every home via digital broadcast. Same goes for all of the cable news channels that derive most of their revenue from advertising. The City Council, as well as state legislatures and Congress should be taking a much broader look at the possibilities, especially in regard to news and information programming.
Order #12. Urge all residents to join with the volunteers of the Clean Cambridge Campaign who will on May 2nd and 3rd, 2009, in an effort to clean Cambridge sidewalks and neighborhoods. Councillor Maher
I once proposed that we should have an annual "Cambridge Day" where all property owners would be encouraged to remove all graffiti and generally clean up leading up to the Big Day. Some neighboring towns have long held special days, e.g. Allston-Brighton Day which has a parade.
Order #13. That the City Council formally request that the Beal Companies consider immediately withdrawing the zoning petition for modifications of the One Kendall Square Cinema site and engage in further dialogue with neighborhood leaders and affected neighbors such that a full discussion can be had prior to any re-filing. Councillor Maher and Councillor Toomey
The cynic in me wonders if the real motivation for this Order is to make sure that any deadlines for City Council action on such a zoning petition would occur after Election Day this November. [Update: Beal Companies has apparently agreed to withdraw their petition for now.]
Order #14. Economic stimulus package for Harvard and MIT. Councillor Decker and Councillor Reeves
This is classic comedy from this comic duo. For example, "Payment In Lieu of Taxes" (acronym PILOT) has now mutated into "pilot" in this Order. This should be be added to the Council comic dictionary along with the verbs "charter right", "charter wrote", and "charter written". Regarding the substance of the Order, this one reads like an Abbott & Costello routine (only less funny). Apparently the genesis of this Order is the fact that Harvard and MIT have laid off a handful of cleaning staff as part of their general economizing during the current economic downturn. The comedy duo of Decker & Reeves (not to be confused with Nichols & May, or Stiller & Meara, or Burns & Allen) offer the following routine:
RESOLVED: That the Cambridge City Council will introduce its own economic stimulus package for Harvard and MIT; and be it further
This Order is plainly illegal (hey, doesn't one half of this duo have a Harvard law degree) in its flouting of the state's Anti-Aid Amendment to direct City money towards an institution not under its exclusive control. It's also hysterical that the City of Cambridge should be directing Harvard & MIT on their employment practices. I insist that this comic duo file an Order for next week's meeting granting me a tenure-track job at Harvard or MIT. Hey, isn't that what constituent service is all about?
We save the best for last:
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David Maher and Councillor Henrietta Davis, Co-Chairs of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a hearing held on Mar 19, 2009 to formalize job descriptions and administrative oversight for assistants to city councillors.
When the matter of "research assistants" first came up several years ago, I stated that these were de facto political appointments and that they should not, as such, be paid out of taxpayer money. Reorganization or additional staff in the City Council Office may be necessary and useful, but I never bought into the notion that every councillor should get their own personal staff. The term "research assistant" was and is a nonsense term invented to obscure the reality of the job. This Committee Report implicitly acknowledges this in proposing to change the name to "Aide to City Councillor". Let me be clear that with but one exception, I have no objections to these aides as individuals. Here's what we have right now:
Councillor Davis' aide used to be her campaign treasurer;
Councillor Decker's former aides have been campaign managers and campaign workers, and her current aide is a relative;
Councillor Kelley has no "research assistant";
Councillor Maher's aide is a long-time political supporter;
Councillor Reeves' aide is a long-time political supporter;
Vice-Mayor Seidel has not had an aide but is now considering it;
Mayor Simmons has staff in her role as Mayor;
Councillor Toomey's aide is simultaneously being paid out of his political campaign account.
Councillor Ward does not yet (as far as I know) have an aide.
Are you detecting a pattern here? The main comment I made at this hearing was that the job description for these aides is really the job description of a city councillor, and that's who should be doing the "research" and answering the letters and phone calls. Being a city councillor was never meant to be anything other than a part-time job, and judging from the other jobs held by most councillors this remains the case. Councillors are nonetheless paid a generous full-time salary. If you're paid full-time, you should be able to handle all the responsibilities of the job, and if there's an excess of work, pass it along to the office staff - just as was done for many decades. If a constituent asks for something that should properly be done by City department staff, forward the call or e-mail to the appropriate department. If a City Council subcommittee needs additional research, ask the City Clerk to make the arrangements or hire the appropriate people.
It's tough enough for challengers to go up against incumbents in a municipal election without using taxpayer money to hire political staff and supporters. - RW
March 23, 2009 City Council Agenda highlights
Here are the items I found interesting, important, or ridiculous:
Mgr #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2009 and ending Mar 31, 2010.
Here's the lowdown:
All rates are per CcF (100 cu. ft., approx. 750 gallons). The water rates are proposed to increase an average of 2.7% (compared to 0% and 2.1% the previous two years). The sewer rates are proposed to increase an average of 7.9% (compared to 0% and 4.8% the previous two years). The combined rates are proposed to increase an average of 6.3% (compared to 0% and 4.0% the previous two years). The City Manager also reports that the annual combined water/sewer rate is projected to increase by an average of approximately 5.7% each year for FY10-14.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to require appropriate City departments and staff to begin collecting data based on gender and to make available to the Cambridge Commission on the Status of Women and all other departments the gender based data while securing anonymity and confidentiality as appropriate. Mayor Simmons
Though I'm sure to get some nasty e-mail messages for saying so, this is ridiculous. What's next, requiring weight, height, and tattoo information in the annual City census?
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to obtain from the Fire Department how many black hydrants are in the West Cambridge area, and whether or not the number of black hydrants in West Cambridge is relatively high in comparison with the rest of the city. Councillor Decker
It would appear that Decker is feeling the sting from the Mar 2 response to her Dec 15 Order about fire hydrant pressure during the Lexington Avenue fire several months ago. Will there be an upcoming Council Order establishing a Fire Hydrant Equity Commission? I'm sure she'll want it to be fully staffed with health and dental benefits.
Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to report to the City Council with a proposal to label trees at appropriate locations to educate Cambridge residents. Councillor Davis
Great idea, really - and simple and inexpensive. Just like at the arboretum or the Mt. Auburn Cemetery. - RW
March 9, 2009 City Council Agenda highlights
Here are the items I found interesting, important, or ridiculous:
Applications and Petitions #5. A zoning petition has been received from Beal Kendall LLC, to amend Section 20.40-Eastern Cambridge Housing Overlay District of the Zoning Ordinance and add new section 20.48.
A quick read of this petition shows that the expressed purpose of the affected part of the Zoning Code is "to provide an incentive for residential development within the designated East Cambridge Housing Overlay District (ECHO) as an extension of the existing residential neighborhood and to permit housing to be developed in combination with other uses permitted on a lot where a mix of uses is desirable." This part of the Zoning Code prescribes height limits ranging from 35 feet up to 65 feet in the area bounded between Charles Street and Binney between Cardinal Medeiros Way (Portland St.) and Sixth Street; and between Charles Street and Binney between Third Street and Second Street.
Of particular interest is the proposed new section 20.48:
1. Where it is proposed to demolish and relocate portions of a structured parking facility in existence as of July 1, 2001 that is exempted from the requirements as to Floor Area Ratio pursuant to Article 5.25.3, then such facility, including, without limitation, the relocated portions thereof shall be exempt from the requirements as to Floor Area Ratio provided that there is a net reduction in the number of parking spaces of at least 15%.
2. The minimum yard setback requirements of Section 5.34 Ind. A-1 may be reduced by Special Permit from the Planning Board provided that a portion of the land situated between the structured parking facility and land abutting the rail road tracks is dedicated for the implementation of a multi-use path.
3. Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 6.36, parking requirements for uses in this area may be modified by the Planning Board upon a finding, in addition to those set forth in Section 6.35.1, that an existing or proposed parking facility has adequate capacity to meet the parking demand given the shared use nature of the property.
I'm not exactly sure about this, but could this be a reference to the Binney Street garage that gave rise to the Citizens for Livable Neighborhoods (CCLN) and the infamous Interim Parking Freeze nearly 20 years ago? This zoning proposal is rather cryptic but definitely worth looking into. There is another communication in the agenda from many abutters objecting to the Beal Company's proposal to build a 105-foot bio-lab tower at the northeast corner of Binney Street and Cardinal Medeiros Way and to extend its existing 72-foot-high garage.
It was not so long ago that an upzoning proposal like this would have been Dead-On-Arrival at the Cambridge City Council. However, in today's climate and with the existing membership of the City Council, it's not out of the question that this proposal or a modified version of it could actually pass based on this Council's unquenchable desire to raise revenue to support its various programs. It is worth noting that the timing of this proposed zoning change may likely result in it being voted on not long before this Fall's municipal election - and the outcome could be a factor in that election.
Communications #3. A communication was received from Senator Anthony D. Galluccio, transmitting a copy of the sent to Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray requesting assistance with the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School Renovation Project.
This is a letter from Senator Galluccio to Lt. Governor Murray which strongly suggests that this is a "shovel ready" project worthy of consideration for federal stimulus money. The letter gives an estimate of 816 jobs that may be created for this project.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to examine the possibility of creating a publicly accessible, appropriately confidential database of broad average or median neighborhood rents for retail space in Cambridge. Vice Mayor Seidel
Councillor Seidel notes that "This information would be helpful to landlords in making sure the rental prices they ask for vacant retail space accurately reflect the supply and the demand, and the actual current rents being collected, for comparable retail spaces at any given point in time." It's an interesting development that the City is being asked to act as a go-between in the traditionally private matter of negotiating rents between a willing lessor and a willing lessee. Then again, the federal government also seems eager to get involved in many matters never before conceivable in a country with free markets.
Order #5. Support for peaceful, educational actions that promote tolerance over hatred, both on Mar 13, 2009 and on any other day of every other year. Mayor Simmons
This is a reference to the nut cases of the Westboro Baptist Church that travel the country to rant and rave and who will be carrying out their bad theater outside CRLS on Friday, March 13. Mayor Simmons' Order essentially proposes that these nutballs be ignored and that peaceful educational actions take place in lieu of any counter-demonstration against these idiots. Good advice. [Update: It has been pointed out to me that Simmons' Order can actually be interpreted as encouraging counter-demonstrations. If so, this is just stupid.]
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City staff to tag for removal bicycles that, as evidenced by the snow around them, appear to have been abandoned. Councillor Kelley
This is a good Order, but we can only hope that City staff implement it as intended. Several years ago there was an effort by City staff in the same spirit as this Order that led to the tagging of bikes locked to parking meters and other fixtures and which served no purpose other than to harass cyclists and dissuade the use of bicycles. Clear the bike racks of abandoned bikes, yes, and maybe even add a few more racks, but please don't insist that these are the only acceptable places to lock up a bike (any more than insisting that a bike lane is the only acceptable place to ride a bike).
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council during the current budget cycle on the possibility of Cambridge using its Free Cash to set up a mortgage assistance pool rather than for a general underwriting of tax payments. Councillor Kelley
I can't imagine this proposal going anywhere. It makes the case that large property owners benefit most from current practices and that direct mortgage assistance would be a better approach. However, this Order suggests a complete misunderstanding of what "Free Cash" actually is and of the potential down side of putting such funds at risk. Besides, there may not be so much "Free Cash" in the near future, and any "general underwriting of tax payments" may be a fiction as long as the current recession continues.
Order #9. That the City Council go on record urging that the Governor's final Municipal Relief Package contain comprehensive tax reform and new revenues for cities and towns. Councillor Davis
Consistent with the City Council's unquenchable desire for revenue to support all of its favorite programs, Councillor Davis endorses (1) giving cities and towns control over health insurance plans (we already have this); (2) allowing local option meals and lodging taxes; (3) closing telecommunications property tax loopholes (which will likely lead to higher consumer costs); and (4) fixing the flaws in the way charter schools are financed.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to have the City of Cambridge participate in Earth Hour by shutting off lights in City buildings on Saturday, Mar 28, from 8:30pm to 9:30pm. Councillor Davis
This reminds me of the days from 1990 to 1992 when I was actively involved in putting together Cambridge's Earth Day celebrations. My friend George Mokray made the case that one-day events like Earth Day were counterproductive and that the focus should be on engaging in more responsible environmental behavior every day of the year. At the time, I thought he was just being a sourpuss, but I later came to completely agree with his point of view. I haven't attended an Earth Day event since and I find them boring and irrelevant. Instead, I chose to actively promote recycling and composting as well as other environmentally sensible actions every day of every year. In this spirit, I consider "Earth Hour" to be the ultimate irrelevant action. - Robert Winters
March 2, 2009 City Council Agenda highlights
Things get underway a little earlier tonight at 5:00pm with a Special Meeting to administer the oath of office to Councillor-elect Larry W. Ward (who replaces Brian Murphy). Since Brian was also Vice-Chair of the City Council, the election of a new Vice-Chair will follow. Though some have used the title of Vice-Mayor (which should properly be called Vice-Chair of the City Council) to boost their reelection odds or to justify getting personal staff, there are no additional privileges or responsibilities associated with the title.
As far as the regular business is concerned, here are the items I found interesting, important, or ridiculous:
City Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $115,000 from Water Salaries and Wages account to Water Other Ordinary Maintenance account to cover an operating shortfall caused by an unanticipated increase in the cost of potassium hydroxide which is a chemical used to treat the City's water.
City Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $200,000 from Water Public Investment Extraordinary Expenditure accounts to the Water Operating Other Ordinary Maintenance account to cover an operating shortfall caused by an unanticipated increase in the cost of potassium hydroxide which is a chemical used to treat the City's water as described in Agenda Item Number 6.
These are items only an operations and infrastructure geek would love, so they greatly interest me. Where else would you learn that the current cost of potassium hydroxide is $7.76/gallon as compared to $2.17/gallon a year ago and that sodium hydroxide is a bargain at $2.83/gal? That's why the Water Department is switching chemicals. Instead of a $1,008,000 annual cost increase, we'll only have a $568,000 increase this fiscal year - small change in this day of trillion dollar bailouts and stimulus packages.
City Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $100,000 from Executive Public Investment Extraordinary Expenditures account to the General Fund Police Extraordinary Expenditures account to cover the purchase of five replacement unmarked vehicles.
I wonder of Nancy Murray and the ACLU are aware that police are spying on the citizens of Cambridge from secret unmarked vehicles. I can feel my sacred rights being violated even as I type this sentence. Quick, tell Councillors Decker, Kelley, and Seidel to file a Order to Stop The Intrusion!
City Manager's Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 09-09, regarding a report on the effects of new Bicyclist Safety Laws on Cambridge.
Nothing special here, but it was interesting to read the details of the new law.
Applications and Petitions #5. A zoning petition has been received from Lesley University, to amend the Zoning Map and Article 20.000 of the Zoning Ordinance by adding "Section 20.200 Lesley Porter Overlay District."
This appears to be a re-filing of (a possibly revised version of) the existing petition that expires on March 11.
Order #1. That following the administration of the Oath of Office to the Councillor-elect, the City Council shall proceed to the election of a Vice Mayor. Mayor Simmons
See comments above.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Chief Public Health Officer to investigate the possibility of requiring chain restaurants to display calorie information on their menus. Councillor Decker
While I don't particularly agree or disagree with the idea contained in this order, please note that Ms. Decker only wants chain restaurants to display this information. Notwithstanding a decision of a Federal Appeals Court in New York, it seems pretty clear that requiring only chain restaurants to do this is skating on legally thin ice. It'll be interesting to see the caloric content labels on the donuts, etc. at Dunkin' Donuts. Maybe they should imprint the calories on the hamburgers at Wendy's. Why not print the nutritional information on every glass of beer at every Cambridge bar while we're at it?
Order #4. That the City Council is requested to approve the amount of $1500 in additional travel expenses. Councillor Davis
There's nothing particularly extraordinary about this routine matter, yet the last time one of these came up Councillor Reeves referred to it as "disgusting." - Robert Winters
Feb 9, 2009 City Council Agenda highlights [Brian Murphy submitted his resignation at this meeting]
The agenda is relatively light this week. The noteworthy items (to me) are:
City Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 08-139, regarding a report on fiscal lessons from past recessions and implications for the next few budgets in Cambridge.
This communication has a nice description of what is anticipated in the coming Fiscal Year.
Committee Report #1 and Unfinished Business #5. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Brian Murphy and Councillor David Maher, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Jan 29, 2009 to continue to discuss a petition to amend the zoning in the East Cambridge area filed by Alexandria Real Estate Equities.
The Alexander II zoning petition will definitely come up for a vote at this meeting (since there is no other meeting prior to its expiration date).
A note on last week's meeting: It came as no surprise that the City Council voted in favor of several paranoid Orders last week regarding security cameras, Fusion Centers, and such. After all, this is the same Cambridge City Council that gets itself exercised over meaningless sanctuary city resolutions and other feel-good rubbish that warms the hearts of peace commissioners and other self-help groups. Nonetheless, it makes you wonder if the term "proportional representation" has any meaning at all. Does anyone really think that a 9-0 vote opposing the security cameras is proportionately representative of the views of the population of Cambridge? My estimate would be: 50% don't care one way or the other, 25% are opposed, and 25% are in favor. Of course, we'll never really know. One thing, however, is certain. Election results are never a good measure of how people feel about any one issue. - RW
February 2, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights
With only the briefest of comments, here are the items that seemed interesting, funny, or ridiculous on this week's City Council agenda.
City Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the Planning Board recommendation on the Alexandria Petition to amend the zoning map and ordinance in the East Cambridge neighborhood along Binney Street.
This is only a preliminary report, but the Planning Board does highlight seven elements of this zoning proposal that they hope survive the process. There is also Committee Report #2 on the agenda on the proposed Lesley Porter Overlay District, and this could be passed to a 2nd Reading.
City Manager's Agenda #16. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the Governor's Proposed Budget for FY2010 as it relates to Cambridge.
The letter from the City Manager, together with the supporting documents, indicate that Cambridge will have $2,605,447 Local Aid cut from the remaining 5 months of the current fiscal year, and an anticipated cut of $5,628,010 from the Local Aid for FY2010, though it's likely that the cut could rise to $8,665,954 if new taxes are not approved by the state legislature. Mr. Healy's main directive is: "All City agencies must closely examine their expenditure plans for the remainder of this year, and anticipate reductions in the upcoming proposed budgets."
Resolution #33. Resolution on the death of Geneva Tallman Malenfant on Jan 25, 2009. Councillor Davis, Councillor Maher
Geneva Malenfant was a great friend and mentor. The Malenfant family will be having calling hours on Tues, Feb 3 and Wed, Feb 4 from 4 to 7pm at the Norton's Woods located at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 200 Beacon Street, Somerville.
Order #18. City Council opposition to the installation of these eight Department of Homeland Security surveillance cameras in Cambridge. Councillor Decker and Councillor Seidel
Order #20. That the City Manager is requested to provide information regarding the circumstances under which the Fusion Center would receive data from Cambridge City Departments. Councillor Decker
Order #21. That the City Manager is requested to halt all work on the Department of Homeland Security camera network, to include supporting infrastructure, until the City Council and relevant City agencies have developed an appropriate regulatory framework to install and utilize this equipment. Councillor Kelley
These three orders show that paranoid elected officials are still well-represented on the Cambridge City Council. I would file all three of these Orders under the "ridiculous" category, but I'm sure they'll each get at least four votes and maybe even pass. I'm waiting to see the Committee Report from the recent meeting on this topic. I'm sure the Peace Commission and their affiliated loonies were well-represented at the meeting.
Committee Report #5. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David Maher and Vice Mayor Brian Murphy, Co-Chairs of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public meeting held on Jan 27, 2009 to finalize the draft City Council objectives and rules for recommendation to the City Council.
I don't personally put a lot of stock in the City Council's biannual "Goals & Objectives" process, but it's interesting to look at the subtle changes from each iteration of the Goals to the next. More on this at another time. -- Robert Winters
When you boil down the primary responsibilities of the Cambridge City Council, the most fundamental task is choosing a city manager or, as is the case on Monday, extending the contract of the city manager. Robert W. Healy first took over as Acting City Manager on July 1, 1981 and was chosen as City Manager on December 14, 1981. Mr. Healy's current contract expires on Aug 31 and a provision of the contract is that either party must inform the other party of their desire to extend or terminate the contract six months prior to the end of the contract, i.e. the end of February.
At a recent meeting of the Government Operations Committee, Mr. Healy publicly expressed his willingness to continue on the job. Since then, there has been a public hearing, all of the councillors have met one-on-one with the Mr. Healy, and the Co-chairs of the Government Operations Committee, Councillors Maher and Murphy, have announced that it is their intention to bring the contract extension to a vote this Monday. The current contract was adopted on an 8-0-1 vote on February 27, 2006 with Councillors Davis, Decker, Galluccio, Murphy, Simmons, Sullivan, Toomey and Mayor Reeves voting YES. Councillor Kelley voted PRESENT. It is anticipated that the vote Monday will yield a similar result. [Update: The contract was extended for an additional three years.]
There are other matters on this week's agenda as well. In particular:
Order #3. That the issue of multi-passenger jitney service between Cambridge hotels and Logan Airport and its potential impact on Cambridge's taxi services be reviewed by the Traffic, Transportation and Parking Committee with the intent of forming a recommendation to the City Council on whether the current limitations on jitney service be revised or left in place. Councillor Kelley and Councillor Seidel
This Order grows out of a discussion at last week's meeting in which two jitney license applications were denied in accordance with the negative recommendation of the License Commission. Councillors Reeves raised serious questions about the sense of the current system which protects the owners of taxi medallions and has led to one-way fares from Cambridge to Logan of between $40 and $50. "$80 to and from the airport is not to be missed as illogical," said Reeves who also noted that the Silver Line will get you there almost as quickly for a fraction of the cost. He suggested looking at the regulation of the cab industry and he was joined by Councillors Kelley, Davis, and Murphy in raising questions about the current regulatory arrangement and the exorbitant prices for a taxicab medallion - comparable to the purchase price of a home. Councillors Davis, Maher, Reeves voted NO on denying the applications and they were denied on a 6-3 vote.
It's doubtful that any changes will come out of this discussion, primarily because there is so much money now invested in taxicab medallions and this City Council is unlikely to be so bold as to challenge the way this well-protected and politically active industry functions, even if it is functioning poorly and not in the best interest of consumers.
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a central figure within his office who shall be placed in charge of implementing and maintaining the City’s boards and commissions, and who shall work to make these entities more robust elements in the governance of the City of Cambridge. Mayor Simmons, Councillor Seidel and Vice Mayor Murphy
This Order has the potential for far-reaching consequences, especially if it can be amended to provide more specific guidelines for the City Manager and maybe even a blueprint for how such an initiative might be implemented. It would also be helpful if at least five councillors cosponsored it. There is no question that under the Plan E Charter it is the City Manager who is the appointing authority for the City's boards and commissions and, despite the wishes of some that the City Council should have some form of veto power over the Manager's appointments, there is no doubt that the authority should remain solely in the hands of the Manager. That said, the Cambridge City Council can and should provide guidance for their Manager as far as what policies they want the Manager to use in making these appointments.
More important than the somewhat red herring of who the City Manager should be appointing is the whole matter of how Cambridge residents get involved in their government in the first place. [Hint: Stepping up to the microphone during Public Comment is not the best way to get involved - not by a long shot.] The current practice is to post an announcement on the City website, on Cable TV, and in the local papers letting it be known that there is a vacancy in a particular City board. Word of mouth is and always has been another primary method of getting the word out, and some City boards actively recruit new members to fill vacancies.
What is lacking is a clear way for a public-spirited citizen who wants to volunteer to explore the possible ways in which he or she might be able to contribute his or her time and talent. A good start would be to create a prominent and permanent link on the City website that takes an interested person to an informative page that lays out the whole universe of ways in which a resident can take part in City government. There should also be periodic open houses for residents to come in and learn how they can volunteer. It goes without saying that the City should also hold periodic events to thank all the people who serve on City boards and to celebrate all that they do without receiving a dime for their efforts. Speaking personally, serving on a City board can be a terrific education, and it would be great if more people knew and appreciated this fact. [I'll add that candidacy for City Council or School Committee can also be a great education - if you choose to learn from it.]
Order #15. That the Cambridge City Council go on record recognizing the grievous impact of the loss of lives in the conflict on families and communities, mourning those lives on both sides of the conflict, condemning the attacks and invasion of Gaza by the Israeli military and the rocket attacks upon the people of Israel, and call for an immediate end to all attacks on civilians on both sides. Councillor Decker and Mayor Simmons
Not surprisingly, I continue to question the practice of the Cambridge City Council passing resolutions such as this. I believe I can say with some certainty that neither Hamas nor the government of Israel will ever read this City Council resolution. It's sole purpose is for Cambridge city councillors to feel better about themselves. Meanwhile, as the Cambridge City Council asks, "Why can't we all get along?", Sunday's New York Times reports that: "Hamas, with training from Iran and Hezbollah, has used the last two years to turn Gaza into a deadly maze of tunnels, booby traps and sophisticated roadside bombs. Weapons are hidden in mosques, schoolyards and civilian houses, and the leadership's war room is a bunker beneath Gaza's largest hospital, Israeli intelligence officials say."
I'll take the Peoples Republic of Cambridge over that land of religious zealots any day. As Blaise Pascal said, "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." -- Robert Winters
Jan 13 - Follow-up to January 12 City Council meeting
The meeting opened with two hours of public comment on events 5535 miles away over which the Cambridge City Council has neither jurisdiction nor influence (Gaza). Once that was cleared away, the City Council brought forward the contract extension for City Manager Robert Healy. After brief comments from Councillors Kelley and Seidel about the unavailability of the contract details on the City website, the Council voted 8-1 to approve the 3-year contract extension. Councillor Kelley, as expected, voted NO. [text of the City Manager's 2009-2012 contract]
This week's agenda is a very short one. What follows are those items I found important, interesting, curious, funny, etcetera...
City Manager's Agenda #2 and #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the License Commission to disapprove [#2] the jitney application from H/M Transportation for a shuttle service between the airport and hotels in Cambridge and [#3] the jitney application of Copley Coach, Inc. for a shuttle service from the airport to hotels in Cambridge.
What's interesting about these are the reasons given by the License Commission for recommending denial of a permit. Specifically: 1. Taxi-cab drivers fear this business will cut into their business during this economic downturn; 3. In order for the taxicab community to provide for short trips, they depend on the airport runs; and 6. Unlike the price of medallions, it is difficult to assess the impact of jitney services in terms of devaluing the cost of [taxi] medallions. It is difficult to assess how many jitney licenses are too many.
Nowhere in the analysis from the License Commission is there any mention of the impact on consumers. What is a typical fare for a taxi from a Cambridge location to Logan airport? I've heard that it's upwards of $30. [According to Councillors Reeves and Davis, it's actually over $40, close to $50 one-way to the airport.] What would be the fare for the proposed jitney service(s)? If a convenient shuttle service is offered at an affordable price, shouldn't this option be made available to Cambridge residents and visitors? Why should protection of the relatively small universe of taxi owners be the one and only priority of the Cambridge License Commission and the Cambridge City Council? At the very least, some city councillors should be asking these questions - regardless of how they ultimately vote. Failure to do so is dereliction of duty (or maybe just payback to those who have written campaign contribution checks).
Charter Right #1. Charter right exercised by Councillor Kelley on a communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 08-119, regarding a report on possible impacts of the new police detail regulations and on the City's reliance on detail work.
This was tabled at the Dec 22 meeting (see comments below). The report essentially says why the City Manager doesn't want to upset the apple cart of lucrative police details. Councillor Kelley tabled it, but it's unlikely that the Council will question the status quo policy or even speak any further on it.
Charter Right #2. Charter Right exercised by Councillor Davis on Policy Resolution #10 of Dec 22, 2008 expressing support for Leonard Peltier.
This matter of no relevance to the Cambridge City Council or the City of Cambridge was tabled by Councillor Davis at the Dec 22 meeting. Apparently the matter came up at a meeting of the Cambridge Democratic City Committee and Councillor Seidel, the sponsor of the Resolution, is still carrying the water for the group. Vote yes, vote no, who cares?
Communication #2. A communication was received from the Trustees of The Harvard Crimson Trust II transmitting its support of the retention of the present name of Plymptom Street in honor of the Plympton family's contribution to local and state government.
Normally, this wouldn't even be worthy of comment. However, there appears to be a tug-of-war going on between former City Councillor (and Harvard alum) Frank Duehay and representatives of the Harvard Crimson (which has a Plympton Street address). One of the signers of this communication is former Cambridge City Solicitor (and Harvard alum) Phil Cronin who also spoke in opposition to the proposed change at an earlier Government Operation Committee hearing. It's especially interesting because Mr. Cronin and his co-writers state in the letter that the late David Halberstam would never support changing the name of the street in his honor. It may well be the case that this whole tempest could very well be about Councillor Duehay showing that he still has clout, and that's not a very good reason for changing the name of a street and forcing all parties on that street to alter their addresses. The Historical Commission has proposed placing a sign on Plympton Street honoring Mr. Halberstam, and that seems like the sensible thing to do.
Resolution #6. Thanks to Carl Barron for his work and efforts to keep Central Square a thriving center for culture and business as he steps down from the Presidency of the Central Square Business Association. Councillor Decker
I'm with Councillor Decker on this one. Carl Barron stuck with Central Square over the decades when many others packed up their businesses and fled to the suburbs and elsewhere. Even among those who have disagreed with Carl Barron at times, everyone agrees that the "Mayor of Central Square" has always done what he felt was best for the people and businesses of Central Square.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves, Chair of the Human Services Committee, for a meeting held on Nov 3, 2008 regarding an update on the new transitional jobs program.
Those who actually pay attention to all this civic stuff may recall that during the last City Council term there was a "Neighborhood Safety Task Force" established (Aug 2, 2006 City Council Order) to look into the problem of violent crime in the city. The co-chairs were then-Mayor Reeves and City Manager Bob Healy. It took forever to convene the group after much debate about who should be represented on the task force. When the task force report was finally issued (Dec 6, 2007, prepared by Abt Associates), some city councillors characterized its recommendations as some sort of blueprint for future policies, but the jury is still out on whether anything substantial has grown out of the recommendations or if the report will collect dust like so many reports of the past. Employment programs topped the list of recommendations.
Most of the recommendations were relatively generic, but one that stood out dealt with enhancements to the City's "transitional jobs program." There was a lot of discussion about how the existing "nine-week program" which provides short term City jobs should be expanded by the addition of an "11 to 14 week program," especially for people between the ages of 18 and 35, that would run parallel to the nine-week program. My recollection from the December 2007 hearing was that there are some people whose sole employment is the nine-week program and that this does not generally lead to continued employment with the City or with other employers. The idea was to establish a jobs program coupled with additional training that would actually lead to long-term employment for some of the more difficult-to-employ residents of Cambridge and that this would somehow lead to a reduction in crime and greater neighborhood safety. That's a noble goal, but we'll have to wait and see if anything like this actually materializes. The current Committee Report is an outgrowth of things identified in the earlier report.
A disturbing item in the report is that former Kenneth E. Reeves campaign manager Gabriel Mondon, himself a patronage employee in the Mayor's Office during Reeves' term, now has a key role in the intake for all of the the nine-week patronage jobs for the City. Anyone who wants to get on the nine-week list must now first meet with Mondon. For those who don't know the history of the nine-week program, this was traditionally a way for any city councillor to recommend someone for a short-term city job, one of the few legal patronage vehicles under the Plan E Charter. These were never particularly well-paying jobs, but it was a way for someone with political connections to get a foot in the door. One has to wonder how the other eight city councillors feel about the fact that Councillor Reeves now has the upper hand in handing out all of these jobs.
You are, of course, free to continue in the belief that "good government" Cambridge doesn't give out patronage jobs to the politically connected, but from this observer's vantage point it seems that this practice has been growing steadily over the last several years. - Robert Winters