Placing all council items awaiting reports ‘on file’ is an irresponsible way to govern
City councillors should reject a proposal they’ll see Monday to wipe out 34 items awaiting action from the city manager and city staff.
Among the items that would be taken off officials’ agendas: zoning on wood-fired ovens that may be affecting a few citizens’ health in Neighborhood 9; the fate of the former Riverside Community Health Center on Western Avenue, which could become city-owned; guidance on the use of City Council interns; a cold-weather plan for the homeless, to be figured out before a potentially deadly winter; recycling and trash pickup for small businesses; and a variety of bicycle-safety options.
As proposed by councillor Leland Cheung, placing all of these and more “on file” is a supposedly nice gesture to the incoming city manager, Louis A. DePasquale, clearing the decks for a fresh start. It repeats the supposedly nice gesture made some three years ago when Richard C. Rossi became city manager. At the time, it wasn’t asked by a councillor, but by the outgoing city manager, Robert W. Healy, who suggested the list would be a pointless burden on an incoming chief executive:
“Despite all good intentions, many of those items are either not feasible, or would require significant investment of staff time to respond to what may be futile efforts.”
This is terrible governance. It magically erases issues that matter to residents – and to the officials who brought them forward – in a brutal, nonsensical way that eliminates important debates along with the things that “may be futile.” Issues recently brought up are wiped away alongside items that may be lingering from the earliest days of this council. As proposed, it’s a literally thoughtless vote.
And it’s based on the fiction that we have a “new” city manager, when one reason DePasquale was appointed with such confidence is the fact he’s been key in city management for decades; he’s not new to the city – he’s been working in Cambridge government since 1975. Similarly, Rossi was appointed after serving as deputy city manager for 32 years.
That means that many of the nearly 60 items sent to purgatory when he was promoted were things he may well have been already involved in. They included everything from asking whatever happened to the long-promised Constellation Center in Kendall Square to a bid to ban big trucks from the city (an issue that has returned with the death of two bicyclists within the past few months) and examining the citizen-filed Andrews petition that aimed to address developer “linkage” fees in 2011; the City Council finally did something about those fees more than four years later.
For a sense of what bad governance this is, consider that one of the reports the council awaits – and would be wiped out – is on whether city funds could be used to lower the cost of installing and removing air conditioning units from apartments owned by the Cambridge Housing Authority. The same item was on the list, and wiped out, in 2013.