Monday, June 24, 2024

Kai Long, in the second Zoom row at the right, speaks during a July 18 meeting of Cambridge’s Charter Review Committee. Not all members are shown in this screen capture.

Cambridge’s Charter Review Committee has partly drafted the first three articles of a potential new charter – and there are few bigger changes.

Some members of the committee at the July 18 meeting were upset the draft too closely resembles the city’s current charter. 

“We’re on track to produce what we’ve had before, which has been very much in the interest of the dominant white culture,” member Kai Long said. 

Member Mosammat Faria Afreen expressed a similar sentiment, saying the committee has not considered enough diverse perspectives.

“I’m upset that I chose to be a part of this [committee], because it doesn’t feel like we’re engaging all of the voices I would really like to have heard,” Afreen said.

The committee is rewriting the document wholly and introduced the first three articles of its draft charter – addressing the powers and incorporation of the city, City Council and executive branch – during the meeting. The draft is subject to change and not a final recommendation.

Elizabeth Corbo, an attorney with the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, has advised the committee throughout the process. She said that because a first three articles heard are only a portion of a full draft, there would be many more opportunities for members to achieve the change they wish to see.

Change for the mayor

Under the current draft, the council would look the same: nine at-large members who serve two years. Councillors would still be elected by proportional representation. There would be no term limits.

The draft retains a weak mayor and a city manager, though the draft charter enumerates the manager’s duties more clearly than the current one. The manager would serve a term of at most five years before the council would need to renew or extend their tenure – not much different from recent practice.

The draft also changes the title of the city’s mayor, though the committee has not decided between “president” and “chair.” The president or chair would remain a member of the School Committee, but would not necessarily serve as its head.

The draft includes sections on goal-setting, a provision not found in the current charter. According to the draft, the president or chair of the council would be responsible for “coordinating the development of council goals and policies.” These goals, the draft reads, would be subject to periodic review and help guide a long-term vision for the city. 

After the council crafts its vision, the president or chair would meet with the city manager to develop goals for the manager’s tenure collaboratively. The council would determine how well the manager met these goals during the evaluation process.

The current “Plan E” charter with a council, city manager and weak mayor was adopted in 1940 and has received no major revisions since. After voters approved a review of the charter in 2021, the council appointed the 15-member committee responsible for analyzing the charter and recommending changes. The committee will send its final report to the council by the end of the year.