Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The council’s fourth and fifth mayoral ballots failed Monday, leaving the city without a permanent mayor into the second month of its term.

Councillor Leland Cheung suggested the council end the stalemate by switching to an instant-runoff form of voting for mayor — much like the ranking system the city has when it votes for councillors and School Committee members — but the idea was immediately shut down. The suggestion is counter to city charter rules, councillor Marjorie Decker noted, and simply cannot legally be used.

Decker said she and Cheung sought a rule that, if the council operated for so long without a permanent leader, the interim leader should go ahead and make appointments to subcommittees. Cheung hoped committee leaders from the past two years could stay in those roles to provide continuity.

Councillor Tim Toomey applauded his “enthusiasm and wishful thinking” but thought the move would “give a false impression things are moving along” and waste staff time when a newly appointed mayor could swap committee leaders once taking office.

Another late order suggested Feb. 10 and Feb. 17 as meetings to be held specifically for election of a mayor, since councillors may be absent from the Feb. 8 meeting and the Feb. 15 meeting is canceled by the Presidents Day holiday. The order also was rejected on charter grounds.

To become mayor, a councillor must win five votes from within council ranks. Monday’s rounds of voting maintained the same four votes for David Maher that have lasted since Jan. 11: those of Maher himself, Sam Seidel, Cheung and Toomey.

Henrietta Davis won three votes Monday when Craig Kelley switched his backing to her from Ken Reeves. Also voting for Davis are Davis herself and Denise Simmons.

Reeves, with the loss of Kelley’s vote, retains his own vote and that of Decker.

All noncandidate council members were asked over the weekend about their criteria for voting.

Cheung and Kelley responded, each saying education was key in their thinking. Cheung said he’d made his decision after speaking with committee members.

“Although some may not consider David the most obvious choice, when the people who were elected to provide leadership on the schools tell me that they think David will provide the best leadership of the committee, I owe it to the voters of Cambridge to listen,” Cheung said.

Until now the council hasn’t opted to vote more than once per meeting on mayor. Balloting has sometimes been deferred to later in meetings, diminishing the opportunity for follow-up voting.

“Tradition” lost on appointments

In acknowledging the appointment of Marlissa Briggett as executive director of the city’s Police Review and Advisory Board and Human Rights Commission, Simmons wondered how the move had been made without the council reviewing the candidate’s resume. City Manager Robert W. Healy, who makes such appointments, said he had stopped following the tradition of attaching a resume for review by the council but tried to attach summaries.

“I was not familiar with that change in tradition or law,” Simmons said, asking access to complete information even if it has to be kept on file in Healy’s office.

Interim mayor Reeves, also clearly behind the curve on the appointment, asked whether Briggett, a civil rights attorney, was in fact from Arlington. Healy confirmed that, in fact, all three finalists for the role happened to be Arlington residents.

Briggett’s positions had been empty for about a year, although the Human Rights Commission had an interim leader. Simmons wondered if each panel were fully staffed and, if not, how soon they would be.

The police board remains short one member, and the commission two, Healy said.

“I ask that you put all possible effort into making these appointments as swiftly as possible,” Simmons said, speaking to Healy’s timeline of filling them “by March.”

But Healy said he meant the positions could be filled in March, not by March, and referred specifically to March 30, although there are 31 days in that month.

“These commissions have for a long time been without staff,” Simmons said. “If you can move faster than that, I would greatly appreciate it.”

The council also approved passing on $92,735 in federal grant funds for training middle school teachers in a math program; and voted 7-2 in favor of a curb cut of up to 20 feet with greenery for Pearl Street resident Gulzada Korkmaz, a topic that drew much public comment and lengthy debate.

“This is ridiculous,” Decker said of the length of council debate and repeated on-the-fly requests for information from other offices in City Hall. “None of us are planners or architects or specialists in parking and traffic.” (Seidel and Davis do have experience in planning, Reeves noted.)