Monday, May 27, 2024

A Dec. 19 document from the city’s Law Department shows some of the legal costs associated with five lawsuits alleging discrimination by city officials. (Source: Cambridge Law Department)

In a formality that leaves a mystery in its wake, the City Council is being asked Monday to keep the books in order by transferring $11.9 million from one city budget to another — from free cash to “Travel and Training (Judgment and Damages)” — for lawsuits against the city filed by five female employees in the late 1990s.

The mystery behind this account-settling toward the end of the fiscal year: What were the amounts of the settlements for the final two plaintiffs? And from what city budgets did the settlements come?

The city won summary dismissal in the cases of two of the five women, Florencia LaChance and Marian Hampton, in February 2003. Another, Malvina Monteiro, was awarded $8.3 million in city money on Sept. 9 after a long appeals process. The final two got settlements Oct. 13.

City lawyers have refused to say the amount of the settlements with Mary Wong (until recently the head of the Kids’ Council) and Linda Stamper (once a city lawyer herself, and now in private practice). Their argument, made in a letter to The Cambridge Chronicle, is that “the personnel information exemption and the privacy exemption” in state public records law allows the secrecy, although a state guide to the law explicitly says:

“The public interest in the financial [settlement] information of a public employee outweighs the privacy interest where the financial compensation in question is drawn on an account held by a government entity and comprised of taxpayer funds. Additionally, the disclosure of the settlement amount would assist the public in monitoring government operations.”

City Manager Robert W. Healy told the Chronicle that assessment, written by the Secretary of State’s Office, was “just guidelines” that could be rewritten by court cases.

The $11.9 million requested as a fund transfer by the council is about $5,000 less than the amounts broken down in a Dec. 19 document responding to a council request to identify:

The outside legal expenses incurred by the City for the Monteiro case and related cases and issues;

The cost of the appeal of the Monteiro case over the original judgment, to include interest and legal fees for both the defendant and the plaintiff;

The amount of money related cases were settled for; and

The overall amount of money the City paid to Ms. Monteiro.

And, while the cases of Stamper and Wong are included in the document’s description of expenses in the early stages of the court cases, when it comes to their settlements the letter says only that they “will be discussed with the City Council in executive session.”

The settlements may have been been paid from a city department budget that didn’t need repayment from free cash. The Law Department’s approved budget for fiscal 2012 was for $2.1 million, including $200,000 in damages, and its total “travel and training” budget was $212,245.

The council meets at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square.