Sunday, June 16, 2024

Deputy City Manager Richard C. Rossi has been proposed as the next city manager for a three-year term. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Less than a month ago the talk about replacing our retiring city manager involved organizational meetings, search committees, official vendors, “visioning” processes, “stakeholder interviews,” citizen engagement surveys, analyses, reports and ensuring updates went on city websites, but somewhere between Nov. 5 and Friday all of that was condensed to: Promote Richard C. Rossi.

The issue will be taken up Monday at the City Council’s 5:30 p.m. meeting at City Hall.

Rossi, deputy city manager since 1981, has been hinted at as taking the position on an interim basis while a search went on to replace City Manager Robert W. Healy, who will retire in June after 32 years overseeing Cambridge’s government operations. Back in October, Healy said Rossi could be acting city manager “without batting an eyelash.”

Such a thing would be necessary because, as councillors Craig Kelley, Denise Simmons and Ken Reeves noted Nov. 8, the search process was moving extremely slowly.

“We’re now almost at Thanksgiving, which is almost at Christmas, which is almost the start of a new term, and we’ll be running for reelection in nine months. We’ve been sitting on this issue for three council committee meetings to discuss what is arguably one of the most important things we do,” Kelley said then. “I think we’re not focused on this as we should be.”

At that meeting, it became clear there was no way the city would not be having an interim manager. The field of possible permanent replacements for Healy would be winnowed to potential candidates or finalists only in mid-2014, according to testimony at a Government Operations and Rules Committee meeting led by councillor David Maher.

What no one mentioned Nov. 5 was the Rossi option.

As an indication of frustration felt by councillors such as Kelly, who raised the retirement issue two years ago, Maher vowed to set a date on Nov. 6 for another meeting to address the city manager search, but he didn’t. And his intention to hold that meeting within the next two weeks also went unmet. The council agenda for Nov. 19 announced a meeting for this coming Wednesday — missing the two-week goal by a little more than two weeks.

The search is still on, according to the policy order by Maher, Reeves, Leland Cheung, Marjorie Decker, Tim Toomey and Mayor Henrietta Davis sponsoring Rossi’s three-year promotion (Kelley, Simmons and Minka vanBeuzekom are the missing names). Slowly.

“The City Council has committed to conducting an in-depth ‘community visioning and engagement’ process at this important juncture and prior to commencing a formal executive search,” it says. “The City Council [will] continue its work to develop a comprehensive ‘community visioning and engagement’ process.”

Weirdly, this language suggests Rossi is an acting city manager who has been given the title of city manager, possibly because the council understands it should have a process or priorities in place even if it also has a permanent city manager.

The council didn’t see that two years ago when Kelley raised the issue.

Still, public comment and council discussion looking at what happened since Nov. 5 is bound to be interesting. And it will be more interesting yet to see with what kind of urgency that “formal executive search” arrives and unfolds, since it seems more like a referendum on how well Rossi does in his three(?) years in the role or marking time until he, like Healy, opts to retire.

The policy order calls for Rossi’s contract to be presented by Maher to the council Jan. 7. It would run from July 1 through June 30, 2016.

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