City Hall will see the arrival of City Manager Yi-an Huang on Sept. 6, Huang says. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Cambridge’s city manager-elect, Yi-an Huang, said he plans to take office Sept. 6 – the Tuesday immediately after Labor Day – and is in frequent contact with City Hall and holding a series of meetings to be able to hit the ground running.

Despite all the meetings with department heads, Huang said he’s trying to make it very clear that until September, it’s not him dealing with municipal issues that arise, but acting city manager Owen O’Riordan, on loan from leading the city’s Department of Public Works. To maintain that clarity, Huang said Friday, it was still a question whether he would attend the City Council’s Aug. 1 special meeting in person.

“Owen has been just a fantastic acting city manager,” Huang said. “There’s a lot of different initiatives that are continuing to move forward and decisions that need to be made over the summer. I really trust Owen and city leaders to do the work, and I don’t want there to be confusion about who’s running the city.”

Louis A. DePasquale retired from the City Manager’s Office on July 5 after six years – and a total 47 years in City Hall. Huang was appointed by the City Council on June 6 while still an executive director at the nonprofit Boston Medical Center, and O’Riordan was asked to fill the gap between the two. Another figure from Public Works, Rebecca Fuentes, was identified by O’Riordan as transition manager.

DPW head Owen O’Riordan, right, seen at a May 17 hearing in City Hall, is acting city manager. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The role of acting city manager didn’t come with specific training, but O’Riordan said on Friday that he met with department heads and DePasquale several times in the lead-up to taking over the office, with the rest flowing from good relationships with senior managers whom he’s happy to lean on.

“The biggest surprise” for the role, O’Riordan said, “was that literally Wednesday evening after my first day on the job, I tested positive for Covid. I expected that I would be trying to immerse myself more completely in the job and working with people in a more detailed way immediately, but it stopped me in my tracks for a few days.”

Deputy city manager is a priority

Yi-an Huang, arriving in Sullivan Chamber on June 1 behind city manager consultant Randi Frank, says the hiring process for finding a deputy city manager is underway. (Photo: Marc Levy)

It was a relatively minor case of Covid, and O’Riordan said he is back in the office. He’s been able to focus wholly on the tasks of the city manager while Public Works is overseen by John Nardone, deputy public works commissioner, and Kathy Watkins, city engineer. “Both are people who are highly competent in their jobs and more than capable of taking on more over this transition period. I don’t have a concern there,” O’Riordan said. “I frankly wouldn’t have taken the position if I thought otherwise.” When Huang arrives in September, O’Riordan expects to return immediately to Public Works and head home to Ireland in the fall for a vacation.

Being a city manager was not something O’Riordan thought about before – and continues not to think about. “I love public works. I love the nature of the work that we do, and the City of Cambridge Department of Public Works,” he said.

“Yi-an is a very bright man and understands what he’s taking on here. I’m happy to help out as best I can,” O’Riordan said. “My ambition is to be the best public works commissioner that I can be.”

Huang and O’Riordan say they have meet frequently, with early hires for roles in City Hall among the first priorities, Huang said. That includes the position of deputy city manager, empty since the retirement of Lisa Peterson in January 2021 for what were understood to be health reasons. Huang said he is in conversation with O’Riordan and personnel director Sheila Keady Rawson to get a job description together and posted.

Telework policy released

Also drawing attention this month during the rush of online meetings was a telework policy. In April, city councillors expressed frustration over the lack of a timeline for rolling out a telework policy made crucial by a pandemic and lack of municipal office space. Huang and O’Riordan said the outgoing city manager finished the policy over the past months but delayed releasing it so the new leaders could have input.

“We made a couple of small adjustments and are in the middle of rolling it out. The idea is to have that ready before school starts so people have some clarity,” Huang said.

Vice mayor Alanna Mallon, who ran the search process that resulted in Huang’s appointment as city manager, said she was excited by the arrival of “a very different type of leader.” She talked about the transition from the council’s point of view during her July 7 episode of the “Women Are Here” podcast that she hosts with Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui.

“I’m already very heartened by the amount of time and care that he’s spent in the community and having meetings getting up to speed. You and I had a meeting with him a couple of weeks ago and I was like, ‘Wow, you already have your finger on the pulse,’” Mallon said to Siddiqui. “It does seem like he’s very committed to doing a lot of the prep work so that when he walks in the door he’s ready to roll.”

Community meetings in August

In addition to telework, Huang said he is tracking a few additional “major topics” that could loom large when he arrives in September, but his main goal is to continue with meetings around City Hall with department heads, “starting to build relationships and understand their work and what they feel like is working really well, where they they could use more support and what could be improved across the city,” Huang said.

While those meetings have dominated July, he expects his focus will shift in August. “I would love to start meeting and getting to know a lot of the community leaders and advocates,” Huang said. “I haven’t scheduled those for the most part, but I’m hoping to start reaching out and building those relationships before things get really busy in the fall.”

With his work at Boston Medical Center ended and a week off planned for the end of July and again at the end of August, he said he expects to arrive prepared and excited.

“The time that I’ve been spending has really energized me. I feel like there’s a lot of really fantastic, dedicated people in the city who I’m grateful to get to work with,” Huang said.