Public should see city manager’s proposed pay, order says

A policy order by City Councillor Leland Cheung suggests greater transparency in approving the contract of Cambridge city managers. (Photo: Liv Rachelle Gold)

A request to post the city manager’s salary and benefits ahead of their contractual approval (or rejection) appears amid a somewhat epic list coming up at Monday’s meeting of the City Council.

The policy order by councillor Leland Cheung is eighth on a list of 22, of which five address the attack on labor unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere and a sixth calls for the resignation of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

It follows an article posted Feb. 8 on Cambridge Day by Walter V. Robinson and Jesse Nankin of the Watchdog New England project, also known as The Initiative for Investigative Reporting at Northeastern University, that notes City Manager Robert W. Healy drew $336,317 in compensation last year and has a retirement package that will cost the city some $5 million.

Healy’s contract, which expires Sept. 30, 2012, was approved by the full council Jan. 12, 2009, with only Craig Kelley giving a dissenting vote. The contract had been negotiated by two councillors: David Maher, now mayor, and Brian Murphy, recently appointed by Healy to be head of community development after a two-year stint working for the state.

“Constituents have commented that they only recently learned the details of the contract between the city of Cambridge and its city manager,” according to Cheung’s order. “Residents … are entitled to know how their tax dollars are being spent before they are spent.”

Cheung is asking that the city manager’s proposed contract be posted 96 hours, or four days, before a council vote on it. Or, to be more specific:

The complete contract with the city manager including all terms, provisions, amendments and attachments shall be posted 96 hours before it is to be voted on by the City Council.

The evident reason for this language: The contract is not explicit in terms of salary. If residents read Healy’s contract before its approval in 2009, they still would not have been able to determine from it the details of his retirement package or that he would get $336,317 in compensation the next year. In preparing their article, Robinson and Nankin relied on information provided by the city’s personnel department to fill in what the contract doesn’t say.

The city “has a long history of championing transparency, accessibility and responsiveness in its aspiration to be good government,” Cheung said in support of his order.

The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge.

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