The Government Operations Committee of the Cambridge City Council, chaired by Councilor David Maher, met Friday morning to begin developing a process to select a new City Manager. The current City Manager, Robert Healy, has announced his retirement, effective July 2013.
Healy, in introductory remarks to the Committee, talked about the history of City Manager hires, the instability in the position in the 1970s, and the events that led to his hiring in 1981. Healy emphasized that he, in the current set of department heads that report to him, has an excellent transition team in place and that current Assistant City Manager Rich Rossi could serve as Acting City Manager "without batting an eyelash."
Discussion amongst the councilors focused on the nature and scope of a search for Healy's replacement. Councilor Marjorie Decker advocated for a process of civic engagement and outreach, using technology to reach beyond those who can show up for meetings. Councilor Kenneth Reeves talked about a process of self study to understand what we are as a city and develop a vision. Vice Mayor Denise Simmons spoke about the need for a genuine community process and the need to establish a firm timetable. In contrast, Councilor Tim Toomey cautioned against spending money on a search firm or a national search, noting that on any given Monday, all it takes is the vote of 5 councilors to hire a manager. Councilor Minka vanBeuzekom felt that Cambridge should benchmark itself against other cities and Council Leland Cheung, participating via teleconference, noted that the Council had given itself the time to be thoughtful.
The collegial atmosphere disintegrated quickly when Councilor Reeves noted that city residents view with suspicion the recent hirings of former City Councilors and School Board members as department and Commission heads. Healy bristled in visible anger, calling the Reeves remark a personal attack and defended those hires as ethical and justified by the circumstances.
Councilor Cheung's participation via telephone was the first time a Cambridge official had participated remotely in a formal meeting. The state Open Meeting law permits such participation if certain conditions are met, including the authorization of the City's executive, in the case, the Manager. In granting his authorization at the start of the meetng, Healy exercised the only authority he has over the Council. By law, his authorization now applies to all Cambridge government bodies.
Healy's tenure in Cambridge has featured significant economic development, a low tax rate and a Triple-A credit rating as well as controversies involving what some see as an overly generous compensation package and sex discrimination and retalition complaints that cost the City $14,596,558 in judgments, settlements, costs, and interest.
The Government Operations Committee will spend the summer considering the process and report back to the Council in September