Thursday, July 18, 2024

A screen capture from a new awaiting report update from Cambridge’s city manager.

It has long been the case that the weekly rhythms of Cambridge city government are a bit veiled. The City Council passes “policy orders” at Monday meetings that go to the city manager. These are requests to the manager, but they are not lawful orders (to achieve that, the council has to enact an ordinance). And then … weeks, months or years pass until the council receives a formal response or votes to remove the policy order from the “awaiting report list,” something they often do in the December following an election.

On Thursday, the city manager released a spreadsheet (pdf) tracking those “awaiting reports” and providing three more tidbits of information for each: an expected date for completion; a status field (so far “Reviewing” or “Active”); and a “notes” field that seems to have information on the steps the city is taking to address the policy order.

“I know we are discussing ways of improving how we work together on policy orders and awaiting reports, and I’m looking forward to continued discussions,” City Manager Yi-An Huang told the council in an email Thursday.

“As a step toward this, I’ve started to include an Awaiting Report Status Update as part of the Appended Information section on the council agenda,” Huang said.

So far, there are only four items on the awaiting reports list, because the council voted to clear the list last month for its new term.

An email showing an waiting report from the City Manager’s Office.

According to the spreadsheet, the city is “conducting outreach to Somerville and Lesley [University] on Somerville grant details” in response to a policy order from Jan. 8 asking the city to consider using federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to support reduced tuition at Lesley for Cambridge residents, copying a similar program in Somerville.  The manager’s office expects to respond for the Feb. 12 council meeting.

Of the three remaining awaiting reports, all from Monday’s meeting, two are marked Reviewing / TBD and the third, a request to consider purchase of the Cambridge Gas Light building at 727 Massachusetts Ave., has a response on this coming Monday’s agenda. (Answer: The city has reached out to the brokers selling the building.)

The manager’s email also addressed the practice of having him and his staff stay at the meeting for discussion of policy orders, rather than leaving the meeting as soon as the manager’s agenda portion is complete. At this past Monday’s meeting, councillor Paul Toner requested the manager stay for the discussion of three policy orders: renewable energy funding, parking and related fees and charging electric vehicles across sidewalks.

“I know there has also been interest in asking city staff to stay for select council policy order discussions,” Huang said. “If I can get a heads up by Monday at 10 a.m., and if any questions can be shared in advance, that would be greatly appreciated and will help us be more prepared.”

The City Manager’s Office did not respond to questions about the frequency of updates to the spreadsheet, but instead forwarded his email from the previous day. It appears it will be updated each week there is a council meeting.

The tracking spreadsheet appears on the last page of the weekly City Council agenda; this week that is page 235.