Special meeting still set for tonight, despite Healy vote and retirement news
A special meeting of the City Council remains scheduled for 5:30 p.m. today, with no agenda for the public or even answers for the councillors themselves — as of Monday — as to what it concerns.
It may concern nothing. City Hall staff suggest holding the meeting is a legal formality and no business will be conducted during it. Officials may not even show up to hold the meeting, although it is also scheduled to be televised.
With the council’s 6-3 vote Monday to add nine months to the contract of City Manager Robert W. Healy and plan the succession to a new city manager, some councillors thought today’s special meeting would be unnecessary. It was, after all, posted as being about nonunion contract negotiations, and the mayor confirmed that was a reference Healy.
After the vote, Healy also told The Cambridge Chronicle he would retire at the end of the contract, yet that also has not formally derailed today’s meeting.
Staying on while the council looked for someone else to take the helm “made a lot of sense,” Healy told the Chronicle.
The three councillors voting against adding to Healy’s three decades running the city were Craig Kelley, Ken Reeves and Minka vanBeuzekom, who signed onto the seven-person policy order before deciding to vote against it when it came up Monday. “I’ve been incredibly impressed with the city manager,” vanBeuzekom said. “But there always comes a time there needs to be a transition period … and six months is a decent amount of time for a transition to happen.”
March 30, which marks six months to the end of Healy’s contract, was the deadline for either the councillors or Healy to announce the end of his time with the city and the anticipation of a well-paid retirement. But the policy order extended Healy’s contact, to June 30, 2013, from Sept. 30.
While vanBeuzekom is a first-termer, Kelley and Reeves had opinions formed from working with the city manager for longer. For both, his handling of a series of civil rights lawsuits that cost the city some $12 million played a role in their votes.
“We are essentially rehiring the city manager with this, and if that’s what the council wants to do, that’s great, [but] I don’t think we can do this without some kind of discussion about Monteiro and the related settlements, for which we don’t have the full value,” Kelley said, referring to plaintiff Malvina Monteiro and the city manager’s apparent reluctance to add up fully how much the legal battles cost. “The manager’s done some great work. I think it’s time to find a new one.”
Reeves agreed with Kelley’s criticisms of how Healy handled the Monteiro case and said it was similar to how Healy decided the city would handle the debacle of the July 2010 arrest — and subsequent dropping of charges — of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. “The way we resolved that, we had a national commission to answer everything except was somebody improperly arrested,” Reeves said, referring to the 12-member panel that spent nine months and at least $241,360 to produce a 60-page report that was generally scoffed at by the council.
“This is a way of doing business in government that I cannot support,” Reeves said. “It doesn’t reflect any logical thinking I know of.”
He also noted low voter turnout — he cited some 25 percent of the city’s eligible voters coming out in the November election — and wondered if most of the “75 percent who stayed home know we wasted millions of dollars pursuing a legal matter we should have been out of as soon as we got in.”
“The manager has given good service to the city. This last term there have been some real missteps,” Reeves said.
At the meeting, Reeves asked directly what today’s meeting was about, and Mayor Henrietta Davis said it was scheduled in case the council couldn’t complete the vote on Healy’s contract. With the vote being done Monday, the mayor said not needing today’s meeting was “possible.” But as Monday’s council meeting ended, she reminded the councillors it was being held.
“For what, though?” Kelley asked.
Update: The meeting took place, lasting less than a minute. While vanBeuzekom came, only Davis and Kelley were in the chamber. When Davis closed the meeting for lack of a five-councillor quorum, Kelley expressed surprise and, as they entered the council’s private room, told her angrily that he had better things to do than show up for meetings that didn’t take place.
This post was updated March 21, 2012, to correct that vanBeuzekom said she was present during the meeting.