It is quite a week in Cambridge! On Monday, the City Council voted 6-3, with a final vote of 8-1, to offer Yi-An Huang the position of City Manager. That vote is the single most important decision the City Council will make all year. My statement on why I voted for Yi-An Huang is below. The search process was delayed due to some council inaction last fall, which led to some uncertainty about whether we could have a robust search leading to a good pool. Thanks to the drive and leadership by Vice Mayor Mallon, who took on the search as soon as the term began, we did it! Despite the compressed timeline, the search included substantive community involvement, unprecedented community and staff input, a robust community engagement process and a fantastic pool of candidates. The search committee of 19 people (15 community members and 4 city councillors including me) worked hard to select finalists from the group of 29 highly qualified applicants from across the country. That culminated in four highly qualified finalist candidates with an impressive array of skills and talents, each with different and professional experience. All four represented a change in our 80 year history of white men being City Manager. I am excited about the generational shift this appointment represents.
We also passed the city budget this week — over $800 million — an astonishing figure for a city our size. The budget book (available online) is a document that shows our values, and after City Council pushing, especially by Councillor Carlone, tells the story of what we spend, why, and what we expect/hope to achieve with the budget.
On more mundane city news, we got our new trash barrel today – remember that if the barrel is too big (as it likely is for many folks) or too small, you may request a change in size. It may take a while, since the complex logistical task of delivering the correct size to 40,000 households is daunting to say the least. Kudos to the DPW team making this process happen!
With June upon us, there are many events and programs all month. Last night CRLS graduation happened, and this weekend one can pick from the Dragon Boat Festival to Pride Brunch to a myriad of things to do in the Cambridge and Greater Boston area. Also, apparently, some local sports teams are generating excitement… my son hosted a Celtics watch party which keeps his mom in the loop (since I don’t follow sports except the US Women’s National Soccer Team and the Harvard Women’s Ice Hockey Team….) Check out the city calendar for events, and Cambridge Day and Boston.com. I hope to be outside more, get some biking done if the weather holds, and start seeing people in real life, not only on Zoom boxes….
Last Week’s Update
CRT 2022 #1 – Budget and Divestment: At this past meeting, the City Council officially passed the FY2023 budget based on a favorable recommendation from the Finance Committee. In the Public Investment section, language was passed so that the City of Cambridge will divest public funds from investments related to the fossil fuel and for-profit prison industries by the end of the month. The Council passed a policy order on April 26th, 2021 requesting that the City Manager work to ensure that no investment of City funds shall be made with banks, money managers, or investment portfolios that have any exposure to fossil fuels or private prisons. I am so excited that the intent of this policy order is finally written into the budget, and Cambridge will no longer support these industries.
POR 2022 #114 – Charter Review Commission: A quick update regarding this policy order: As you know, a ballot initiative passed in November of 2021 regarding the formation of a commission to review Cambridge’s City Charter. Mayor Siddiqui has introduced a policy order asking for the formation of an ad hoc committee, composed of four City Councillors, to appoint members to the Charter Review Commission. At last week’s meeting, this order was charter righted by Councillor Azeem, and will be discussed next Monday instead. There was discussion about potentially including a different list of councillors on the committee – I’m excited to discuss next week.
This Week’s Update:
RES 2022 #144 – Debra Wise Resolution: Debra Wise, Artistic Director of the Underground Railway Theater at Central Square, is stepping down from her position at the end of June. Debra co-founded the Underground Railway Theater in 1978 with the mission of creating theater that provokes vital questions and contributes to positive change. Now, Central Square Theater continues that mission as a space dedicated to the exploration of social justice, science, and the feminine perspective through theater, and is the oldest female-led theater organization in the Greater Boston area. Debra’s decision to step down came out of her deep and lasting commitment to justice, when after the murder of George Floyd, she determined that her departure could help catalyze a more diverse leadership team. Additionally, at the 2022 Central Square Theater Gala on June 2nd, the Debra Wise Legacy Fund for Radical Hope was launched, which will help the Theater work toward social change. I am happy to introduce this resolution with Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Mallon and Mayor Siddiqui in honor of Debra and her incredible work.
POR 2022 #123 – History Cambridge: introduced with Councillors Azeem and Zondervan and Mayor Siddiqui for History Cambridge, a local history treasure on Brattle Street, as part of its ongoing work illuminating the history of Cambridge, has installed an exhibit on the Forgotten Souls of Tory Row. The installation, titled “Forgotten Souls of Tory Row: Remembering the Enslaved People of Brattle Street,” is a selection of bottle trees that are currently on display at the History Cambridge headquarters. The tradition of bottle trees, brought to the Caribbean and the U.S. by enslaved people, uses bottles placed on tree branches to ward off evil spirits and capture the energy, spirit, and memories of ancestors. The installation at History Cambridge represents the people who were enslaved by mansion owners, in hopes of honoring their memory and legacy. Much of the wealth from former mansion owners on Brattle Street was made from the labor of enslaved people, both from individuals in the Caribbean and well as people at their estates in Cambridge, and these individuals’ memories should be recognized. We are asking the City Manager to publicize this exhibit through all possible City channels, and urge you to visit if you have a chance!
Councillor Patty Nolan’s statement on the City Manager decision and vote:
I am excited that the City Manager search process has finally concluded and that we are in this moment of selection of our next leader. While compressed, the search was ably led by Vice Mayor Mallon and our search consultant. I am grateful to the Vice Mayor and Mayor who spent countless hours over the last few months to get us to this place with a robust comprehensive search in record time. And, I want to thank the 30 applicants from across the country. They each filled out extensive questionnaires and put themselves out there. I was honored to be on the search committee from which the four finalists before us emerged. The range of experience was impressive, and we had excellent choices. As has been said by all my colleagues, the choice was difficult since the candidates all have different strengths, and the four candidates each impressed me in different ways.
After reading, researching, talking, and reaching out to many people, I will be voting for YiAn Huang. He is a candidate who will bring a fresh perspective to bring progressive change. He has a demonstrated ability to get things done, and to do things urgently. To bring people together. His children attend CPS, which gives him a connection to the community I am not sure the Council has ever had in a City Manager. He has lived in Cambridge for more than 15 years as a renter and a homeowner, with a demonstrated love for this city. Of those in the community who weighed in on this choice, many of whom had never emailed the council before, it was striking to me that there was widespread grassroots support for Yi-An Huang. From families who knew him through his children and activities in school, from people who worked with him at BMC, from people who heard his thoughtful answers at the forums. The excitement about his fresh perspective and his deep commitment to good governance, inclusion and accountability was palpable.
He showed his strong communication skills, which is something we have all noted is needed. As a leader in healthcare during COVID, he demonstrated that he has strong problem solving skills and experience doing things in a timely way; for example, the way he helped BMC to take a three-year plan for telehealth and implement it in 14 days was frankly amazing. His experience outside municipal administration is an asset, since he will more likely ask good questions about why we do things a certain way, to bring needed outside perspective. At the same time, we have strong leaders in the city who know municipal government – so there will be a great team.
His experience managing complex budgets is a huge asset – he talked about the budget, our bond rating, and the place of the budget in Council goals in a way that demonstrated solid understanding of finances which the leadership profile required, and that rose above every other candidate. For my own due diligence, as my colleagues have noted they did as well, I reached out to many people. To people in the health care community, to the community in Boston and Cambridge — residents in different parts of the city, including residents living in public housing. From all those conversations, it was clear that he knows how to unify people and how to manage, including difficult people like all of us. He also does not have any specific agenda for the role other than working to meet the goals of the city.
He also did his homework, which showed in his answers. That is a good sign, since this job requires a lot of work. His understanding of the various issues facing us was impressive. He demonstrated that he knows that management of a complex organization requires balancing various constituencies and issues. He showed us how he thinks about that challenge. Additionally, his track record shows that he knows how to deal with challenging issues, including identifying trade-offs and making decisions in a timely manner.
As for character, he is generous and kind and empathetic – key qualities for a leadership role. That quality was exemplified by when he housed three Afghan refugees — which was not disclosed by him, but people who knew him. The fact that the search committee did not know speaks volumes – his actions were done from the heart. His approach to the role would be with “humility” and “listening and learning.” His leadership style emphasizes creating a plan of action, basing all plans on values and goals, and incorporating feedback. All of which solidified my support for him.
From the beginning I stated that we need a leader and a manager. Our leadership profile basically describes a miracle worker. We have four candidates all qualified for the job with an impressive range of experience and skills and lived experience. After all the intensity of the last few months, in my considered opinion, the best person to lead this incredible city into the future is Yi-An Huang.