Sunday, June 16, 2024

In further evidence the job of city manager was always Louis A. DePasquale’s to lose, one of his two competitors dropped out Wednesday. With state secretary of housing and economic development Robert “Jay” Ash Jr. deciding the job was not right for him “professionally and personally,” that leaves only a challenge from Paul J. Fetherston, looking for a bump up from assistant city manager in Asheville, N.C.

Opinion boxBut DePasquale certainly has the City Council votes tonight to get promoted from assistant city manager for fiscal affairs, the seat from which he’s delivered decades of stellar budgets and cash surpluses. Fetherston doesn’t, and rating 1.5 points higher than DePasquale in staff scores from a screening process was never going to be enough.

So Cambridge can expect more of the same in leadership; DePasquale has been a city employee since 1975 and an intrinsic part of the team led by Robert W. Healy and Richard C. Rossi together for 32 years (and extended after Healy’s retirement to 35 years with Rossi at the helm).

And that’s generally a good thing.

No memory, no mistakes

Among Cambridge government faults, though, is an inability to admit mistakes. Whether it’s selling off much of Kendall Square’s prize garden to show Google how high city government can jump when asked, shutting out a couple of entrepreneurs at the whim of a single local businessman or saying that the 11.5 percent total on “inclusionary” affordable housing since 1998 was totally on purpose, most of our leaders will do anything to close ranks and suggest a record of blissful perfection.

On Monday, in saying goodbye to the retiring Rossi at the end of the contract granted him three years ago, councillor Leland Cheung told him his selection was “a really easy choice” and said, “We got some flak for it, but I think in retrospect everyone recognizes now what those of us who’d worked with you saw all along” – completely ignoring the fact that the “flak” wasn’t for the choice of Rossi, but that the council had promised a process and failed to hold one.

The Kool-Aid in City Hall is so delicious that even councillor Craig Kelley can’t remember why he was the sole vote against Rossi’s appointment in 2012. He knew it then, when he said, “It’s a question of us doing or not doing our jobs, and we did not. We abjectly failed … frankly, I’m embarrassed.” But on Monday he told Rossi, “perhaps my worst vote was not voting for you as city manager.” (This is Kelley admitting a mistake of his own to erase the fact that the council just utterly failed – achieving an acceptable result in a way that was insulting to both the public and Rossi.)

Three approaches

This may not bother a lot of people. But anyone who has ever admitted to and taken responsibility for a mistake, or thinks it’s important that people and public officials be able to – we all watched Hillary Clinton do it Monday about her private email server, for instance, and she has previously apologized for such misguided initiatives as the 1994 crime bill – will be interested in a small survey taken over the past few days.

Each city manager candidate was asked to identify a policy mistake made by himself or his city government while they were in office there.

bullet-gray-small Ash, who took his name out of contention, admitted to mistakes immediately and forthrightly when asked Sept. 20, describing things he regretted and learned from at his current job and as city manager in Chelsea for 14 years, such as a couple of zoning decisions that he realized had a larger impact on neighbors than expected.

bullet-gray-small Fetherston had to be cajoled into admitting mistakes Sept. 21, even when saying it was important to be upfront and transparent about them. Finally, he said there had been use-tax issues during his time working in Boulder, Colo., that created an uproar and made him realize “we should have done more stakeholder process than we did.”

bullet-gray-small DePasquale, however, would not answer the question. He was asked three times – twice in person and once via email.

“At this point, based on where we are with the process, I’d like to just stand on what I’ve said on the record,” DePasquale said Monday, declining to answer.

He will be voted in as city manager during a special meeting of the City Council to be held at 5:30 tonight at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square. The council may then go into closed-door session to discuss contract negotiations, including pay. DePasquale, who earned $200,411 last year, could see a jump to the $325,000 range, based on a council conversation held this week.

This post was updated Sept. 29, 2016, to correct the difference in rankings between DePasquale and Fetherston.