Thursday, July 18, 2024

I have lived in Cambridge for more than 25 years. I love this city. I love its openness, the sense of possibility that it conveys; its squares, its parks, its shops, its restaurants. I love the fact that there are people in Cambridge who care about this city, who worry more about our neighborhoods than about our bond rating, who stand up again and again to speak before a City Council that neither listens to, nor cares about, what they say.

Cambridge is a great place to call home. And yet we can no longer deny that Cambridge is going through troubling times. Recently, the city finally agreed to stop litigating the case brought against it by Malvina Monteiro (the former executive secretary of the Police Review and Advisory Board) for retaliating against her when she filed a complaint of discrimination based on the actions of the city manager, Robert W. Healy. The total cost to the city, including interest and attorney’s fees, exceeds $10 million. This money is coming out of a so-called free cash account, an account Healy has proudly declared exceeds $100 million. This is the “highest free cash balance in the history of the city and a $12.9 million increase over last year,” Mr. Healy  said, according to Wicked Local Cambridge.

That the free cash balance is so high is no accident. In the statement that Healy made after the appeals court upheld the judgment in the Monteiro case, he said, “Over the years, I have planned for such a potential unfortunate outcome. The payment of this award will not affect the City’s FY 12 tax levy. The judgment will be paid from the unreserved fund balance account.” “Unreserved fund balance account” is another name for “free cash account.”

Healy, year after year, put money into this account in anticipation of having to make big payouts in the Monteiro case, and in two other discrimination cases against the city that are based on his alleged discrimination. He is a smart man. He drafts a budget that allows him to build up the free cash account, then takes credit for doing so. Then he takes the money out of the account to pay the Monteiro verdict, assuring the public that he has been prudently preparing for the payout. Our FY 12 tax rate won’t go up, so we can’t find fault with him on that score. It’s a win-win-win for Healy.

And for Cambridge taxpayers? Well, we don’t make out quite as well. Because we know that $10 million is $10 million regardless of whether the fund is marked “litigation account” or “free cash account” or “unreserved fund balance account.” We know that each one of us is paying for this judgment. We are paying for Healy’s retaliation against a city employee who filed a discrimination complaint. We are paying for Healy’s pride, which prevented him from settling this case before it went to trial. We are paying for Healy’s arrogance, which led him to file a frivolous appeal and to turn a $4.5 million judgment into a $10 million payout.

What else will we pay for? There are two pending lawsuits based on alleged discrimination that have facts similar to those in the Monteiro case. These cases, one filed by Linda Stamper and the other by Mary Wong, are making their way through the court system. Although that’s not good news for the residents of Cambridge, it is good news for the City Council. Its chosen leader, Mayor David Maher, says that since all of the discrimination lawsuits have not been resolved, he must keep from public view all documents related to the council’s deliberations in the Monteiro case. Maher says that since there are two more discrimination cases pending, the Monteiro documents must be kept hidden from public view, even though that case is over. If the Monteiro case is a foreshadowing of things to come, don’t expect any time soon to see City Council documentation of its handling of discrimination cases. The Monteiro case took 13 years to reach resolution.

Perhaps the saddest part of this fiasco is that for the City Council, it is business as usual. Not one councillor has pointed out what is obvious to so many of us: Healy should not be permitted to oversee the litigation in the two remaining cases in which his alleged discrimination is the basis for the complaints. Yes, I know our Plan E form of government gives such authority. The City Council must find a way to take that authority away from him. One way to do so is for the City Council to amend our city charter pursuant to the Home Rules Procedure Act (Mass. Gen. Laws, Ch. 43B). Councillors could also seek the assistance of the Municipal Law Unit of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Government Bureau. The Municipal Law Unit works with public officials to help communities “function effectively in the best interests of the citizens of the Commonwealth.”

Lastly, why has the City Council not taken steps to investigate these multiple claims of discrimination by Healy? If these women had sought interviews with CNN instead of seeking justice through our courts, perhaps the city would have convened a commission of national experts and held hearings and vowed to do better in the future. The City Council has collaborated in a culture of silence regarding workplace discrimination against women of color. In doing so, it has done a great disservice to this city that we love.

Silvia Glick

Glick is a lawyer who has worked in housing- and employment-discrimination cases. She has been a candidate for City Council, but pulled out of this year’s race in August.