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Oh Cambridge, you came and you gave without taking

by: eli_beckerman

Sat Aug 20, 2011 at 00:13:00 AM EDT

(To be sung to Barry Manilow - promoted by eli_beckerman)

Cambridge, Massachusetts is the East Coast's Berkeley, California. Its crunchy reputation -- from hippie/granola to People's Republic -- is well-earned on average, but, well, a bit off-target and way out of date. You see, since rent control was thrown out by the end of 1994, Cambridge has seen a dramatic erosion of its working class communities. And going back to 1940, when the Plan E / City Manager form of government was first instituted, the elites have found it easier and easier to pull the strings on policies of social upheaval and community destruction.

While no substitute for reading Bill Cunningham's historical backgrounder Which People's Republic?, he manages to sum it all up in one sentence:

In Cambridge, these policies have uprooted poor and working class communities in order to cultivate, on the same soil, the University City.

And for all the feel-good progressivism that pervades this city, there is an underbelly of corruption, liberalism, and exploitation that stink up the place. The racial diversity is lovely, but quietly growing apartheid conditions and a fierce, latent racism mean that such feel-good sentiments are dangerous illusions. And while it's lovely that we are sister cities with so many others around the world, we are on a path of social destruction here at home. I am proud and grateful to live in a city that has an active, funded Peace Commission, but I am ashamed to live in a city with a more active, better-funded city government that colludes to protect the elite university, biotech, and developer interests at the expense of its own people.

So it is with a bit of glee that I observe the unfolding drama around the wrongful-termination lawsuit that is haunting City Manager Bob Healy and the complicit City Council. It's rare that all the corruption, hypocrisy, and racism hiding under the veneer of all the many positives that Cambridge has going for it bubble to the surface in one instance.

eli_beckerman :: Oh Cambridge, you came and you gave without taking
The original case, of course, was borne out of the racism and corruption driving Cambridge city government that mostly go unchallenged. As Priscilla McMillan sums it up:

In her suit, Malvina Monteiro, a Cape Verdean immigrant hired in 1990 as Executive Secretary of the Police Review and Advisory Board, charged Healy with racial discrimination when he fired her in 2003, allegedly because she had, five years before, attended a course on city time without his permission. The case was brought by Monteiro and four other women of color, hired during the 1990's to fill professional and management positions, who found that they faced retaliation whenever they took action against the city's everyday discriminatory practices.

After an original $4.5 million jury verdict in 2008, and proclamations from Healy that the city won't have to pay a dime, Healy and the Council's strategy of fighting tooth-and-nail in court have drawn the case out for 13 years. Earlier this week, the Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld the jury verdict, and now the total cost to Cambridge has ballooned to over $10 million.

Healy's statement, of course, struck a defiant, unapologetic tone:

I am very disappointed with this decision and maintain that the City did not retaliate against Ms. Monteiro after having been found by an earlier jury not to have discriminated against her. I have reviewed the Appeals Court decision with legal counsel and informed the City Council this morning that I have decided not to pursue an appeal to the State Supreme Judicial Court in this 13 year old case. It is now time for the City to move forward and bring closure to this matter.

Over the years, I have planned for such a potential unfortunate outcome. The payment of this award will not affect the City's FY12 Tax levy. The judgment will be paid from the unreserved fund balance account.

Monteiro's attorney, Ellen Zucker, responded:

"On one hand I am gratified that the city will finally acknowledge what the jury found, and two levels of review have confirmed, and that they will pay the judgment," she said. "What disappoints me gravely in this statement is that there is no acknowledgment that a wrong was done to Ms. Monterio. I am sorely disappointed that the leadership of the City of Cambridge has not addressed the underlying behaviors that have led them to this point and that is what I hope happens next in the public discussion."

Zucker said the decision shows that the jury found enough evidence that Healy engaged in "outrageous conduct" to punish Monteiro.

After the appeal was shot down, the Cambridge City Council once again worked to protect the real power and unaccountability of the City Manager. Before Healy released his "conciliatory" statement, five City Councilors voted to go into Executive Session without allowing for public comment, in violation of the Open Meeting Law and the Council's own rules. Only Craig Kelley and Sam Seidel voted against this pathetic, illegal move. The City Council's M.O. is to simultaneously protect the City Manager's power and to use it as the ever-convenient excuse for why they can't do what their constituents ask of them.  Kelley's opposition was laid out in a letter:

On a related note, I would think it is a terribly foolish and dangerous idea to not allow public comment, to not have this meeting televised and to go prematurely into Executive Session even if there weren't clear legal guidance on everything but having the meeting televised.  We have followed poor advice down this multi-million dollar rathole long enough and it is far beyond time that we started thinking for ourselves. Important issues of public trust are at stake and holding largely private discussions on such a public matter would erode such trust.

But it went down like this:

But his dissent was short, as a motion from councillor and state Rep. Tim Toomey had already been made to go into the closed-door session. When the vote was taken, it was 5-2-2, with Henrietta Davis and Ken Reeves absent; Mayor David Maher and Leland Cheung, Marjorie Decker, Denise Simmons and Toomey in favor; and Kelley and Sam Seidel opposed.

Just like the good old days:

On Dec 20, 1971 five councilors suddenly introduced an order to repeal rent control. Three of them would leave office in ten days; three were Independents and two CCAs. The vote was to be Dec 27. Eight hundred people jammed into the chamber and hallways. Since everyone had a right to speak for 10 minutes, the 'people's filibuster' would talk, sing and shout, until New Year's if necessary, to stop the 'lame ducks' voting. Finally the Council agreed to adjourn to Rindge Auditorium, two nights later. Two thousand people showed up at Rindge, but their mikes were never switched on. As soon as outgoing mayor Vellucci banged his gavel, councilor Danehy called the question, and the Clerk started the roll call. Amid deafening chants of "no vote!" councilors fought for the podium. As a crowd surged against the stage, councilors Clinton, Coates, Crane, Danehy and Sullivan huddled behind a cordon of uniformed police and voted; so the vote was 5-0 to end rent control.

Sadly, the modern version features just a dozen or so angry voters.

This editorial in the Cambridge Chronicle points out a few of the ridiculous tidbits about how the Council enables this farce of democracy:

Healy has made this case about himself. He has previously said he doesn't expect the city to pay a dime. Healy, whose contract last time around was barely debated by councilors, has been city manager for 30 years now; his $336,000 a year paycheck surpasses the governor and is slowly heading into President Obama's pay territory ($400,000)...

City councilors, including Mayor David Maher, have been mostly silent after the decision on the appeal. Councilors have enabled Healy to drag this case on for longer than it should. Healy, for his part, has said city lawyers are reviewing their options.

Those city lawyers come with a price tag -- $1.6 million as of 2008. And if Healy and the city request the Supreme Judicial Court to review the decision and the court declines, taxpayers will be paying dearly.

In this case, and in all city matters -- from the police review board and to education and development policies -- Cambridge will continue to be a sham democracy (even WITH its pseudo-proportional-representation) until we change the form of government. As Bill Cunningham ends his Which People's Republic?:

An elected mayor might be no better, but is unlikely to be worse, than an unelected manager. If we are ready to change course, we shall install an executive accountable to the voters. This will be a signal, to ourselves and to all others, that we don't want to keep on sliding toward the monolithic University City; that we want to give force to our own plans for the future; that we are willing to be free.
Should Cambridge switch from City Manager to elected Mayor?
Only if it wants democracy!
No, an unaccountable City Manager knows best!
No, all muni execs, even elected ones, are corrupt
Maybe so, but I'd need to know more
I don't know - what's a city manager?


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too much (0.00 / 0)
$336,000 a year seems really excessive for this job - maybe for any job.

Unless he has 12 kids or something. (Would be interesting if people were paid according to how many others we are supporting.)

Sorry - I know you said a lot in this article, but somehow my mind honed in on this one detail and cannot let go...

for such a proud "progressive" place, (0.00 / 0)
the WHOLE situation is absurd, his salary included.

With City Councilors earning $70k a year, the weak mayor making $103k a year, and Councilor Tim Toomey collecting another $61k for being a State Representative, plus a $7k annual expense stipend, and at least another $7.5k for being Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, it's no wonder the City Council is willing to play this game. Toomey's compensation totals out at well over $145k (Governor Patrick's salary is $140k, by the way, not including other benefits). Toomey's completely vested in protecting the status quo, having been a City Councilor for 21 years, and double-dipping for 18 of them. And while he's the extreme, almost the entire City Council plays some variation of this game -- building and protecting a personal fiefdom for reelection while playing along with and protecting the corruption at the core of power.

[ Parent ]
Reducing Public Comment (0.00 / 0)
Over the years, the City Council has also reduced the time allowed for open public comment at Council meetings.  They have effectively insulated themselves from the citizens who elect them.  Of course, Cambridge city politics are a shadow show as Healey and his hand-picked staff hold all the real power.  The Councillors have a public platform and some patronage possibilities to boost their own egos and that's about it.

Solar IS Civil Defense

[ Parent ]
Oh and (0.00 / 0)
thanks for the Barry Manilow song. Made me smile.  

Ridiculous (0.00 / 0)
I'm appalled that a city of over 100,000 people, one of the most densely-populated in the country, doesn't even allow its citizens to elect its own mayor. There are many small towns in the middle of nowhere that at least afford their citizens that convenience.

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