City Council Agenda Highlights (3/14/16) (3 Responses)

The agenda for the March 14 Cambridge City Council meeting is posted on the Open Meeting Portal.

The big news this week is that City Manager Rich Rossi announced his retirement on Friday, ending speculation about whether he would seek to renew his contract, which runs through June 30. Some may recall that Mr. Rossi was promoted to manager after his boss, longtime City Manager Robert Healy, was ushered out with a golden parachute following workplace harassment lawsuits that cost the city $10m in legal fees. A 45-year city employee, Mr. Rossi has been a highly dedicated, respected and effective leader. In contrast to his predecessor he was responsive to residents and very well-liked by his staff.

The Council’s single most important power is one it has not exercised in decades — conducting an open public search for a new manager and negotiating his contract (we have not yet had a female city manager and I hope that will change before long). I hope that we can recruit a seasoned city leader with the managerial skills, compassion and vision to help Cambridge confront the twin threats of climate change and income inequality. I envision a process, led by an executive search firm that specializes in filling city manager positions, that would solicit input from multiple stakeholders and interview committees comprised of residents, representatives from the business and university communities, city staff, councillors and others. I hope that we can name a successor by the end of 2016.  I welcome your comments about the search process — please comment on a separate post I wrote when Mr. Rossi announced his intention to retire.

City Manager Agenda:

This week’s short list of items includes detailed information on the city’s continued AAA bond rating (with attached investor reports from Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s) and the appointment of an Open Data Review Board. The Open Data Initiative is bringing our IT Department’s deliverables into the 21st century by providing greater transparency and public access.

Policy Orders of Note:

Carried over by a charter right from last week’s meeting is an order on the future re-purposing of the Out of Town News Kiosk in Harvard Square. (I posted on this last week.) Assuming that the order is pulled for discussion, I feel its wording should be amended to add the words “and community” after each mention of “commerce.” The task force appointed to develop a stewardship framework and guidelines should strike a balance between promotional and community uses. It should include residents of Harvard Square, West and Mid Cambridge as well as the Harvard Square Business Association, The Harvard Square Advisory Committee, the Historical Commission, and the city-funded Office for Tourism. The kiosk is a public asset in a prominent historic location. We can do better than a mini-Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which is what I fear it could devolve into if commerce and the need to support operations through rental fees, product placement and advertising overwhelm the public purpose.

#2 Posting Variance Applications Online: While the wording of this order only refers to “planning applications and supporting materials,” I believe Councillor Cheung’s intent is to ask that our Board of Zoning Appeal join the 21st century by posting in full on its website all applications for variances and zoning changes, so that members of the public don’t have to make a special trip to Inspectional Services to review plans and supporting materials. The Planning Board has been posting materials online for a number of years. There is no technical reason what the BZA could not do the same.

#3 Charter School Reporting: Councillor Kelley is renewing with slight changes a request he made last term for a report on charter school enrollment and performance. He approaches this topic as an avowed opponent of charter schools and the wording reflects his stance. I have a different view, shaped by my very positive experience on the staff of one of the three charter public schools in Cambridge (CCSC).Based on my personal experience at CCSC I am confident its educational programs and socio-emotional and learning supports for some of our most underserved students represent an excellent investment and value. So I welcome the opportunity to open a dialogue on the reasons that Cambridge residents and others desire and deserve a choice of public schools, on the ways district and charter public school could share best practices, and on the value of publicly funding alternatives to district schools. That said, I do hope that the state will make good on its promises to reimburse local districts for funds directed to charter public schools during the initial years when students leave the district.

#4 Feminine Hygiene Products in Public Restrooms: This order to provide feminine hygiene products in public restrooms dovetails with some work I’ve been doing to support the The Hygiene Campaign’s advocacy to de-stigmatize menstruation and to solicit donations of such products for homeless women in shelters.

#5 Demographics of Residents of New Developments: I co-sponsored this order with Councillor Kelley to survey residents of the newer housing developments to inform the citywide planning effort. As the type of housing we are creating is increasingly in larger buildings it would be helpful to know the potential impact on our schools and other services.

#8 Limits on Opioid Prescriptions: I co-sponsored this resolution in support of the bill now before Gov. Baker that would limit to a 7-day supply all opioid prescriptions for minors and for first-time adult use. Ultimately I would like to see the state require opioid education for all youth athletic coaches and high school athletes, as many of the young people who become addicted first used opioids to manage pain from sports injuries. We also need more treatment beds and more counselors trained in treating substance abuse disorder to meet the demand of this crisis.

Communications from City Officers:

Mayor Simmons is announcing the creation a “Special Advisory Committee on Neighborhood Resiliency” chaired by Councillor Kelley to “advise the mayor on potential policies that are geared toward helping neighborhoods build more organic resiliency capacities across multiple spectrums.” I believe this idea grew out of Councillor Kelley’s interest in climate disaster preparedness. I would like to see residents of North Cambridge and Fresh Pond/Alewife appointed along with a resident of East Cambridge and the other stakeholders explicitly mentioned in the memo.

Public Comment and Viewing Meetings:

Public comment begins at 5:30 pm. Each person is allowed to speak for 3 minutes on any agenda item. You may call 617-349-4280 on Monday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm to sign up to speak, or sign in when you arrive (before 6 pm). If you wish to submit written public comments, please email and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at

City Council meetings are televised on CCTV Channel 22 and live streamed on the City Council’s website. Recorded versions of all Council meetings may be found on the city’s Open Meeting Portal..

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    Jan Devereux
    City Councillor
    Cambridge, MA