Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Four city councillors asked again Monday for information about what it cost to settle three lawsuits accusing city officials of civil rights violations, discrimination and retaliation — essentially repeating a request made Oct. 24 by all nine members of the council.

The information is asked of City Manager Robert W. Healy no later than Dec. 19, the night of another council meeting.

“I feel it’s absurd that the council has no idea what the total settlements cost,” Ken Reeves said, explaining the policy order co-signed by Leland Cheung, Sam Seidel and Denise Simmons. “I realize that there could be confidentiality agreements around the settlements, and I’m not asking anyone to breach that. But as the members of the government here in Cambridge, we have the reasonable right to know how much was spent on legal matters, no matter how it is couched … if we’re going to be the government, the government needs to know where the city’s money is being spent.”

An explanation given in a closed-door session, which would prevent the public from learning the details, would be acceptable, Reeves said. The previous request for information, by councillor Craig Kelley, acknowledged that some information might have to be withheld from the public for legal reasons and asked for an explanation for the secrecy and when it might end.

Local media have also sought the information, with The Cambridge Chronicle noting that the city’s slow response to its request broke state law and that the personnel-privacy reasons given for the denial by retiring City Solicitor Don Drisdell are “completely erroneous,” according to an expert quoted by Chronicle reporter Scott Wachtel.

Either way, it’s peculiar for a city manager to refuse to supply his employers — the policy-setting board known as the City Council — with requested information.

“I just feel the council not knowing is an affront,” Reeves said. “I want the information gap closed by any means necessary.”

The nine councillors voted for the policy order unanimously, without comment.

Healy was both accused in the lawsuits and the person who decided to appeal an early loss, boosting a $4.5 million payout to $8.3 million over the years, not including the city’s expenses for outside counsel. After the September settlement of that case, Malvina Monteiro vs. City of Cambridge, settlements from current and former employees Mary Chui Wong and Linda Stamper were announced in a joint statement Oct. 13.

Mayor David Maher has also opted to keep secret the minutes of closed-door meetings in which the cases were discussed, saying through the city clerk that “the litigation involving Ms. Monteiro, Ms. Stamper and Ms.Wong has not yet been concluded. Therefore, the city’s litigating position could still be jeopardized by premature disclosure of the requested records.”

The Massachusetts Administrative Office of the Trial Court says final judgment was affirmed Sept. 20, though, with a final trial conference scheduled for 2 p.m. Jan. 10.