Next city manager looks to be our deputy city manager
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.
At least 6 City Councillors, outside of a legally advertised meeting of their body, discuss among themselves the most important issue a City Council can discuss, and propose to appoint a new City Manager. The formal vote at Monday’s meeting will just be an affirmation of something which has already been discussed and decided.
I believe in the Open Meeting Law, and I expect that public bodies discuss and decide in public. This is wrong, very wrong. And it’s too bad that the term of the new City Manager has to begin this way.
Why not just give Rossi a contract for life and be done with it? It would save everyone a lot of posturing and a lot of time. This City Council never intended to facilitate real change. Let’s cut the hypocrisy and give Rossi the car, the long-term care insurance, and whatever else he wants. The Councilors who want Rossi to become the next city ruler have no shame. Their excuse for hiring Rossi is that they have been moving too slowly to conduct a search? Are they already spending all their time on running for reelection? And in what way is a transition from a Rossi administration going to be easier than a transition from a Healy administration?
I agree with Tom. This is a unique opportunity to generate a public discussion about where Cambridge is headed and what we want for ourselves both in a City Manager and our vision for Cambridge. For City Council members to decide in the privacy of their chambers to take a pass on vetting a whole host of candidates who, by their experience and personal visions, could actually raise the level of the discussion and our expectations, is just criminal. If they’re going to pass on their most important obligations in favor of what appears to be more of the status quo, we all of us suffer a lessening in our possibilities. For shame. Please do your job and do it right!
I think the Councilors are suggesting a sound approach and I’m greatly relieved. Leaders that are brought in right after the departure of a long-term successful leader generally have a very difficult time. Partly this is because organizations have a difficult time making a good succession choice at that moment and partly because the leaders themselves are shadowed and directly compared to their predecessor. Bringing in someone like Mr. Rossi on a extended interim basis is a good way of creating the conditions for Cambridge to make a good decision about the next long-term City Manager and creating the distant from Mr. Healy’s term for them to succeed.
Also while I respect open meeting requirements I think it is dangerous and paralyzing to interpret their requirements as meaning that all activity must be conducted in public meetings.