Friday, July 12, 2024

City Manager Robert W. Healy, right, speaks on an example of Law Department work. Click on the image to see video clip.

Criticism of the city’s Law Department in Cambridge Day drew a public rebuke from City Manager Robert W. Healy, who called it “propaganda.”

The criticism cited three significant examples of Law Department failure, but Healy addressed the most recent — a $3 million request to start a school renovation process that was tabled by city councillors who cited its confusing language — when given the chance in a televised May 9 special meeting with the School Committee.

“Despite the propaganda of a local blogger, the wording in the loan order is perfectly accurate, as it is in the cover letter,” Healy said. He cited the language in the funding request “for design and construction,” which, when asked a week earlier in a council meeting what it was for, he called “only a design fee.”

But as he explained it May 9:

“This means two things. One, to select an architect who does a design and monitors the construction. And since all of this is an estimate as to what the design fee would be, if there is any balance in the loan order it could be applied to the construction.”

“The $3 million loan order has been very, very carefully and legally worded,” Healy said.

The language on the Law Department-drafted city manager’s letter, which is a longer version of his order, says:

Please find attached an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $3,000,000 to provide funds for the architectural design and construction of an elementary school to be either rebuilt or renovated as part of the multi-year Elementary School Rebuilding Program. This order is being submitted for the May 2, 2011 City Council meeting to allow the City Council to vote on this order on May 23, 2011 which is the projected date for City Council adoption of the FY12 Budget. Approval of loan orders on budget adoption night has been the practice for several years. [Emphasis added.]

The details Healy cited May 9 are hard to discern in the “very, very carefully and legally worded” order and letter cited by councillors as cause to put off voting on the $3 million. (The funding was passed to a second reading that day to become part of the city budget.)

“Propaganda” is defined as biased or misleading information pushing a political cause or point of view. After citing three examples of poor Law Department work, Cambridge Day said:

“Time and money can be saved, and there can be less rancor and division in the city, with a higher quality of work from the department crafting official city language.”

A call for comment was made to Healy’s office May 11, but was not returned.