Monday, June 24, 2024

Nancy Glowa, left, at Cambridge City Hall in 2020, has led the city’s Law Department for more than 11 years. (Photo: Derek Kouyoumjian)

City solicitor Nancy Glowa is retiring after more than 11 years leading Cambridge’s Law Department.

The longtime employee’s last day is Sept. 15, after which deputy city solicitor Megan Bayer will be appointed as acting city solicitor, city spokesperson Jeremy Warnick said Friday. Bayer has been with the city since February 2017 and has served as deputy city solicitor since May 2022, where she has been involved in all aspects of the Law Department, according to Warnick and Bayer’s LinkedIn page.

The department, which handles municipal litigation and advises departments in City Hall, has a $4.2 million budget and 16 employees – 11 attorneys, a public records access officer and assistant public records access officer, an office manager and two administrative assistants, according to the city’s 2023-2024 budget book.

Glowa is a Cambridgeport resident who came to City Hall in the 1990s after a Superior Court of Massachusetts clerkship and partnership at the Boston law firm Harrison & Maguire (now Robinson & Cole) in the 1980s, according to an online profile. When city solicitor Donald Drisdell retired Jan. 20, 2012, Glowa became acting city solicitor ahead of a permanent appointment.

A resolution on the City Council agenda for Monday honors Glowa as having led her department “in its many successes, defending the city in litigation and advising across all the complex issues that come before the city,” as well as being a “great mentor both inside and outside the Law Department,” who grew it to meet the city’s increasing legal needs.

The resolution by councillor Paul Toner with co-sponsors in Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and councillors E. Denise Simmons and Marc McGovern lists items from managing the end of rent control to contributing to one of the country’s first inclusionary housing ordinances, calling Glowa a “tireless leader who leads by example, putting in long hours to produce careful, diligent and well-researched legal opinions; effectively representing four city managers and many city councillors, department heads, members of city boards and commissions, attending and providing legal opinions and advisement at countless meetings and hearings.”

The resolution honoring Glowa’s retirement recounted many accomplishments.

Some of the positives it cites could be seen as negatives by residents and councillors in recent years. During Glowa’s leadership there was an explosion in public records requests manufactured by the city in lieu of informal responses to simple questions, which clogged the department and could slow responses to a crawl; repeated needs for funds to address “unanticipated increases in costs relating to legal matters”; and a churn of staff.

Glowa’s tenure was rocky at times, with councillors sometimes frustrated at slow Law Department response times and being told their initiatives were impossible despite seeing similar laws enacted in neighboring communities.

An example that combined the complaints came in 2019, one year, two months and 15 days after vice mayor Alanna Mallon asked city staff to look at ways to make up for the loss of parking spaces due to construction in Inman Square. Long after the construction began, a report came back without suggestions but quashing hopes of daytime-only side-street parking with a warning of “a future challenge to the constitutionality of the city’s resident permit parking program.” Councillors were left looking across the city line to Somerville, where the solutions they proposed had long since been implemented.

There could also be reversals that councillors found confusing, such as a ban on the use of tear gas by police that then-councillor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler brought to the Law Department, where repeated deadlines to respond and chances to collaborate on language were missed. The conclusion in March 2021 was baffling: “The solicitor told me and other councillors within the last two weeks that the Law Department would be happy to support it with a couple minor edits. And now we’re being told we don’t have the authority to do this at all,” Sobrinho-Wheeler said. “The Law Department had four months to research this and [supported] it as recently as two weeks ago. So I’m just trying to understand what happened in the last few days.”

In February, after initially approving a one-person zoning petition from Doug Brown, the Law Department reversed course and called it “defective.” As Glowa told councillors, “There was a misunderstanding that we had – we had understood this to only affect the property of Mr. Brown … when it was looked at more carefully and we realized that it affected other property within the city.” Given that a plain reading of the petition made its intent clear, councillor Patty Nolan said she was “just in shock” at the flip-flop.

When the tear-gas discussion brought complaints about the Law Department, Glowa complained that the criticisms had been “personalized,” though a search of the transcript didn’t reveal personal attacks. When a council order in April 2021 explored a budget for outside legal research, Glowa insinuated there could be “fines or jail time for councillors who violate that provision of the charter.”

Glowa often assured the council that she represented all City Hall departments equally and at the same time, though on a practical basis councillors can be at odds with the city manager they hire, who has the power to hire and fire city solicitors. During a council debacle in 2020 over a contract extension for then-city manager Louis A. DePasquale, Glowa told councillors that as their attorney, she could have advised them it was the sole circumstance in which they could and should have hired their own independent counsel. She did not, she said, because “I was never told that the council wished to.”

It was the same year that Glowa told councillors they weren’t allowed to know anything about an errant police officer’s discipline, even behind closed doors, at odds with plain language in the city’s charter. In September, her department produced Covid-19 Expert Advisory Panel notes that councillors had been requesting for months – not because councillors asked, but in response to a citizen’s public records request. In the first case, the council was lumped in with the public in the citation of laws against “public disclosure” of police discipline; in the second, the council seemed to be demoted in importance to lower than the public. “I think we all on the council have been at the point where the solicitor weighs in on something and it’s not an answer that makes a lot of sense,” Sobrinho-Wheeler said in September 2020.

Glowa became leader of the Law Department as the city’s long-running Monteiro case was coming to end – a $14 million series of losses for the city. Glowa was at the city’s table in court throughout the trial, as well as participating in the decision to fire Malvina Monteiro while the lawsuit was underway, said Ellen Zucker, the lawyer representing the former city employee in her dozen-year lawsuit. Glowa and the city’s Law Department were also named as the cause of another of six discrimination lawsuits faced by the city at the time, according to a November 2011 article in the Cambridge Chronicle. Plaintiff Linda Stamper worked in the city’s Law Department for seven years starting in 1992 with Glowa and accused Glowa of acting in a discriminatory manner, the Chronicle said. Her case was settled with that of another plaintiff in 2011 for $3.9 million without the city admitting wrongdoing.