Wednesday, April 17, 2024
Tim Toomey

Tim Toomey

Claiming that the issue was too confusing yet signaling also that he suspected there were politics at play in City Council chambers in the final weeks before an election, councillor Tim Toomey ended an attempt Monday to televise an upcoming meeting that launches a citywide development master plan.

Toomey also put a hold on the $3.3 million that would pay for the master plan process, delaying the signing of a contract with Utile, the firm selected in August to lead the process.

The upcoming roundtable to discuss citywide planning – being held at 5:30 p.m. Monday in lieu of a regular City Council meeting – will go on unaffected by Toomey’s use of the “charter right” that delays a conversation until next meeting of the council, which he used to pause both the overall funding and the broadcast of the meeting.

“Nothing really important has been affected. Utile will still be there and go through the timeline,” said Lee Gianetti, spokesman for the city. “Really, the only thing that’s important is what the City Council ultimately decides to vote on Nov. 2.”

That’s when the $3.3 million in funding from free cash will return to the council’s agenda – and so would the televising of the roundtable, if not for the fact the roundtable will already have happened.

Citizen livestream

Because the city will not be making the start of the citywide master planning process public immediately beyond allowing people to watch in person – no public comment or votes will be taken, as is also tradition with roundtables – freelance news reporter John Hawkinson said he would be livestreaming the meeting on his Youtube channel, as he has with done with past meetings failing to reach the public through municipal means.

That the rules of roundtables prevents them from being seen has been debated and ridiculed at least since 2012, with even Mayor David Maher (then chairman of the council’s Ordinance Committee) affirming in 2013 that they could be televised.

On Monday, councillor Nadeem Mazen proposed turning the master plan roundtable into a “special meeting” so it could be televised, and he had a separate order to address the issue for all roundtables held thereafter.

But in discussion of the master plan roundtable, despite the explanation being in print and given by Mazen, city clerk Donna Lopez and vice mayor Dennis Benzan, councillor E. Denise Simmons seemed confounded by what was proposed. Noting her reaction, Toomey jumped in: “It seems to be very confusing, so I’ll charter right it.”

“No one has ever objected”

He expanded on his belief that the issue was too confusing to be voted with an objection to the issue being politicized, saying both that the issue of televised roundtables came up often but also that “no one has ever objected before.” (Starting at about 5 hours, 17 minutes into the city’s official video of the Monday meeting.)

“We go through this quite a bit, vote these roundtables. If it is the will of the committee, Government Operations will hold a hearing to abolish the roundtables … if that’s the majority. But it seems every time, there’s certain times we want a roundtable and other times we don’t, and it really becomes a political ploy … as a political ploy it’s just not appropriate. The mayor scheduled this, I think, three months ago, and that’s how we’ve been doing it.”

When Mazen replied, Benzan noted that there was no place for further discussion, because the issue had already been resolved by Toomey’s use of the charter right.

“I’m simply responding to my colleague’s assertion that this is politically motivated,” Mazen said.

“And I will respond,” Toomey said. “Councillor Mazen’s been here a year and three-quarters and this is the first time it’s been brought up … all the roundtables we’ve had, no one has ever objected before.”

Councillor Toomey, people are constantly asking for things to be televised,” Mazen said. “Constantly.”

Indeed, there were a handful of people who spoke during public comment Monday to approve of televising the master plan roundtable and others, citing a past livestreaming by Hawkinson and Cambridge Day of an officially non-televised roundtable.

Needed time to think

When Mazen’s long-term order came up, Toomey moved it to the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, which is led by Toomey.

Toomey didn’t respond to a request Thursday for more information about his charter righting of the $3.3 million funding, but Hawkinson reported the reason given him by the longtime councillor: “He charter-righted citywide planning because he needed time to think about it.”

The master plan process, initiated by councillors in April 2014 and identified as a three-year process a year later, lacked a cost estimate for its expected start another two-hour roundtable in June, when City Manager Richard C. Rossi told councillors “It’s going to be expensive, very expensive.” The price tag then, stunning and staring them, was to be at least $2 million.