City councillor Alanna Mallon enters a Jan. 3 inaugural, when she was chosen to serve as vice mayor for a second term. (Photo: Marc Levy)

A search for the next city manager described as being already behind schedule was slowed further last week despite the pleas of vice mayor Alanna Mallon, who is expected to coordinate the search and its public outreach process.

Until Jan. 1, the process had been led by councillor E. Denise Simmons – the same councillor who led last term’s bizarre, supposedly last-minute agreement to extend the contract of the current city manager. In the new council term, Mallon has been given leadership of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee by the mayor, replacing Simmons.

The council saw a late policy order at its Jan. 10 meeting to designate Mallon as point person for the search, with the understanding that her first work would be to sign two local firms to handle public outreach. Though Randi Frank Consulting of Louisville, Kentucky, was identified last month as the best choice to run a search, it “does not have experience with Cambridge specifically, nor do they have experience with doing the extensive community outreach engagement that the search requires,” Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui said. The plan was to hear public priorities in selecting the next manager by bringing on consultants from coUrbanize, a community engagement specializing in real estate that was founded in Kendall Square, and Boston’s Cortico, which has a mission of “bringing underheard voices to the center of a stronger public dialogue.”

“We are very behind”

Simmons put a stop to that for two weeks – there was no council meeting Monday because of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday – by using her council “charter right.”

“I’d really like the opportunity to talk to the chair of government ops,” Simmons said Jan. 10, “and look to have the opportunity to talk to her about this more thoroughly.”

Mallon appealed to Simmons. “We are already behind in coordinating and hiring these two community engagement pieces,” she said. “If there was any way for councillor Simmons to remove the charter right and let us move forward with this tonight, I’d be happy to meet with her and any members of the City Council to go over next steps and how these community engagement processes will work.”

“We are very behind at this point. And if we don’t move forward with this tonight, I do wonder about our timeline, which is very tight,” Mallon said.

Simmons was unmoved.

Though the mayor responded by saying she would consider calling a special meeting at which the orders could be reheard and voted, as of this week there was nothing scheduled. The next public step on the city manager search is Jan. 26, when Mallon’s committee sits – two days after the next regular council meeting.

A notice for a special meeting was posted online briefly. It had to be taken down when the Law Department advised that one couldn’t be called solely to deal with a charter righted item,  Siddiqui said Wednesday. It was unclear why – no such rule is stated in the latest rules of the City Council.

Keeping councillors involved

When councillor Patty Nolan spoke about the late policy order Jan. 10, she not only expressed urgency, but caution about how the search would be handled – that Mallon would coordinate logistics but leave the process as “something we all decide” in committee and eventually as a full council. “This is not saying the search will just go and vice mayor Mallon is taking over, but that if this passes she will be the coordinating force and will of course be communicating back and forth with all of us,” Nolan said.

Before the 2020 contact extension for City Manager Louis A. DePasquale, there had been extensive discussion in committee about how to undertake negotiations, but Simmons surprised other councillors Sept. 15 (at the end of a meeting lasting more than eight hours) by saying negotiations had been completed and a vote was required immediately on them or DePasquale might leave.

That was contrary to the terms of DePasquale’s existing contract, but councillors took the vote anyway.

DePasquale’s last day in office is July 5.


This post was updated Jan. 19, 2021, to add that a special meeting was called but canceled on advice of the Law Department.