Friday, December 8, 2023

City councillor David Maher, seen at an event during his 2010-11 term as mayor, is newly appointed as chairman of the committee that could negotiate a city manager contract. He was in the same position three years ago for the last negotiation.

New Mayor Henrietta Davis handed out committee assignments Monday to her fellow city councillors, with David Maher in position once again to potentially negotiate a contract for City Manager Robert W. Healy.

In the divvying up of 17 committees to the nine councillors, Maher has been named chairman of the Ordinance Committee and Government Operations and Rules Committee after a two-year gap in which they were overseen by Sam Seidel. Seidel failed to win re-election in November, and a council seat was filled by first-termer Minka vanBeuzekom.

March 30 marks six months to Sept. 30 and the expiration of the three-year contract awarded Healy by the full council Jan. 12, 2009, when only Craig Kelley giving a dissenting vote. The contract had been negotiated by two councillors: Maher and Brian Murphy, appointed by Healy in February 2011 to be head of community development after a two-year stint working for the state.

It is not clear there will be a new contract for Healy, who has led the city as its manager for three decades.

If written notice of termination isn’t given March 30 by either the council or Healy to the other, Healy’s contract says, the current agreement on pay and benefits goes on for another year — then another year and another and so on “unless either party hereto gives six months written notice to the other party that the party does not wish to extend this agreement for an additional one-year term.”

If there are contract negotiations this year, a new feature of them will be the public posting of the terms of a city manager contract 96 hours before the council votes on it, a policy order introduced in February 2011 by councillor Leland Cheung. “It is an unfortunate truth that the last contract was negotiated by two of the councillors and brought out as ‘This is the contract’ in a public meeting where we were being asked to vote on it,” councillor Ken Reeves recalled during the November elections. “In my 22 years, it had never happened that way before.”

The appointments

In other appointments, Cheung takes over the Neighborhood and Long-Term Planning committee from Seidel and the Cable TV, Telecommunications and Public Utilities committee from Davis; Marjorie Decker retains leadership of Finance, Housing and the Community Health committees from last term; Craig Kelley takes over Public Safety from Denise Simmons and keeps chairmanship of the Veterans committee; Reeves takes over University Relations from Cheung and keeps Public Facilities, Arts and Celebrations; Simmons, who is vice mayor, takes over Human Services from Reeves and keeps Civic Unity; Tim Toomey takes over Economic Development, Training and Employment from Cheung and keeps Claims; and vanBeuzekom will run Transportation, Traffic and Parking, which was once led by Kelley, and Environment, once led by Davis.

Davis, as mayor, runs none of the committees.

In the past, the committees Maher oversees — Ordinance and Government Operations and Rules — had co-chairs, but Davis didn’t appoint any. Toomey resigned from the Ordinance committee in December 2010, in what Robert Winters called a “legislative tantrum” on his Cambridge Civic Journal website, and the spot was never filled.

Davis’ appointments were timely, as there have been a flurry of referrals to committees over the past couple of meetings, with debates a week ago as to whether issues could be referred to committees without leaders and Decker and vanBeuzekom clashing Monday over which committee would inherit an agenda item about Cambridge going coal free. While vanBeuzekom suggested it be heard by Finance and Environment, which was later revealed to mean she and Decker would look into it separately, Decker wanted it going to Community Health, which was later revealed to mean she alone would look at it — all debated without either knowing officially who was in charge of any of the panels.

“Did a notice of committees go out?” Simmons interrupted the argument to ask.

A list exists, Davis replied, but “You all don’t have that information yet.”

Simmons suggested tabling the whole issue until after committee assignments had been passed out, protesting that “it’s hard to vote on something to be sent to a committee when we don’t know who’s chairing the committee or the persons leading the committee might not have had a conversation about whether they want to work together” — suggesting, surprisingly, that issues can be sent to committees based on who runs them rather than which committee is the appropriate one for a given topic.