The selection of Cambridge’s city manager is one of the most important functions of the City Council. The nine members of the current council failed in this duty. The council reneged on its commitment for a thoughtful, inclusive, public process over the past fall to choose a new city manager and instead gave a three-year term to Richard C. Rossi, who had been outgoing City Manager Robert W. Healy’s chief deputy, in a hastily arranged handover in December.
The city manager directs all day-to-day operations of city government. The manager has hiring and firing authority, direct or indirect, over many hundreds of people. While the council ultimately deliberates on and passes budgets and zoning ordinances, the city manager and his employees create the initial documents and guide the policy process. For the past decade, it has been the manager, not the council, who has been the primary driver of policy.
Given the position’s power and importance, the council should have a ready-to-go plan to handle a vacancy. This council did not. In skipping a public process, the council may have chosen the wrong person. Yet, even if Mr. Rossi is the right choice – and he could be – the council did him no favors. Instead of helping Mr. Rossi begin his tenure with the unified support of the city, the council rushed him into place, beginning his tenure with amateur hour at the council and a message for Cantabrigians: Public input is not wanted.
From goal-setting to running public searches and inviting community participation, it is not difficult to envision what a good manager selection process might look like. There are ample resources available, including executive search firms, whose expertise could be drawn on. Surely the council can do better.