Friday, June 14, 2024

Oversight of city administration is the most important responsibility of the City Council. Simply put, oversight is making sure that city policies and procedures are carried out and that the city administration behaves in a manner befitting our voter’s core values.

Cambridge has a well-earned reputation for being in the vanguard of many movements that have helped groups or classes of people advance their causes. It is a reputation that requires the City Council to hold the city administration accountable.

This week’s decision by a three-judge Appeals Court affirming the lower court’s rulings in the Malvina Monteiro case calls into question the strength of the City Council’s oversight of the city administration.

Here we have a case where a jury has found that the city retaliated against an employee for filing a discrimination claim. Yet we have no independent review of the city’s actions such as we had in the Gates case to determine if they are symptomatic of a wider, systemic issue or a one-time isolated incident. A strong oversight function would want to know this.

Here we have a case where many of the city officials deciding to pursue appeals — at significant taxpayer expense (the monthly interest is the equivalent of a teacher’s annual salary) — are those central to the original case. A strong oversight function would call for, at a minimum, an independent review of the city’s chances of success on appeal. Others might go further and remove the involved parties from continued decision-making authority to remove any potential for actual or perceived conflict of interest.

None of the potential courses of action suggested above occurred in this case. The city administration was allowed to continue to pursue the case as it saw fit, with relatively little apparent input from the City Council, on whom the voters rely for oversight.

I am left with two ways to describe the City Council’s oversight performance here. Either they missed opportunities to take a more active role, resulting in a failure of their oversight responsibilities. Or the City Council felt that the case was being handled to their liking.

Either description is distressing. We are left with a City Council that let members of the city administration central to the initial litigation lead the appeals process while the residents and taxpayers of Cambridge are left to foot the bill for their lack of oversight. Is this a systemic issue or an isolated incident of Council oversight failure? You will be the judge in November.

Charles Marquardt, candidate for Cambridge City Council