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Members of the Council and consultant Randi Frank,
A Better Cambridge is an all-volunteer group committed to creating a more affordable, diverse, sustainable, and vibrant Cambridge. We see this year’s City Manager search as a vital opportunity for the city. Each of the Manager’s core responsibilities have a profound impact on ABC’s core values of housing abundance, affordability, stability, and sustainability. For example:
The next City Manager can support staff at the Community Development Department in developing zoning proposals, building on Envision Cambridge, and planning for our housing needs in the decades to come. This collaboration can set the stage for more abundant, high-quality housing for people at all income levels.
Creating affordable housing in Cambridge’s high-cost market relies on city funds to fill financing gaps and reach deeper affordability levels. Following and expanding on the precedent set by Manager DePasquale and the Council, the next City Manager can allocate millions of dollars for affordable housing (whether capital funding or other subsidy options) directly from our municipal budget.
Investments in staffing for housing stability can dramatically enhance the resources Cambridge offers to at-risk tenants fighting to stay in their homes. The next City Manager can support and expand these services.
- Appointed boards — especially the Planning Board and Board of Zoning Appeal — play a large role in determining whether housing development in Cambridge enhances or impedes the City’s equity and climate-change goals. The next City Manager can, through appointments, hold these boards accountable to those goals.
While you cannot and should not select a City Manager based on commitments to any particular policy, there are a number of visionary and leadership traits that will be essential for the next City Manager. In shaping the leadership profile, in your service on the Search Committee, and in the Council’s final interviews and vote, we ask that you consider the following factors:
- The City Manager should embrace the importance of renters in Cambridge. Cambridge renters — in the Cambridge Housing Authority, nonprofit-operated housing, and market-rate buildings — make up a strong majority of Cambridge residents. Renters are municipal employees, nonprofit leaders, students, small business owners, and an essential part of every aspect of our city’s fabric. Our city must support all of its residents, whether they’re here for a few formative years or for a lifetime. In short, renters matter, and we need a City Manager who understands and acts accordingly.
A deliberate focus on renters is critical not just because of the vulnerability of renting, but also because renters are under-represented in municipal discussions. Candidates should be evaluated on how they have made room for, listened to, and delivered for under-represented stakeholders in their previous experiences, and whether they are prepared to do so for renters in Cambridge.
- The City Manager should embrace the possibilities of a growing and changing Cambridge. Cambridge is a constantly changing city, shaped by internal and external economic forces. In order to live up to our potential, we must make that change work for the benefit of all, and strive for abundance in housing, transportation, and our investments in our residents. The next City Manager must be prepared to take bold leadership in guiding both medium-term and long-term urban plans that are responsive to our housing crisis and include real steps towards ending it. Candidates should not see the job of City Manager simply as an “administrative caretaker” role, merely preserving and protecting the status quo. Candidates should be excited to work with the Council to lead a city government that preserves what is great about Cambridge while forging and planning for an even better future.
- The City Manager should embrace the principles of racial and economic justice, and prioritize those who rely most on Cambridge’s resources. Whether it means investing in financial support for those most in need, ensuring a level playing field for housing access, rapidly pursuing safe and accessible streets, or simply making appointments to boards and commissions that reflect the diversity of Cambridge, we must do better at living up to our progressive reputation. Candidates should share our values and believe in the power of government to improve people’s lives.
- The City Manager should be prepared to take policy guidance from the Council. In our Plan E system with an appointed chief executive, it is of paramount importance that the Manager respond to the policy priorities set by elected officials. Candidates must have experience being responsive to external oversight and guidance.
- The City Manager must be able to independently prioritize. While the Council can and does set high level goals, the manager must be prepared to set priorities to ensure healthy functioning of the whole government and execute these goals. The ideal candidate would have experience setting tactical priorities to execute a broader strategic vision set by a City Council, board, or other governing body.
The City Manager should incorporate data-driven feedback in the development of city policies. Too often, the city’s plans are driven by a small set of loud voices. It will be important to cut through the noise, and find and use representative sources to help drive internal priorities.
The City Manager should have experience managing the work of a large number of people. As the chief executive, they will be responsible for the working conditions of more than 3,000 employees. Strong experience managing large organizations is crucial, and an effective manager will empower City staff within a broader strategic direction. The Manager will also need support from skilled staff, and the ability to create new positions or adapt existing roles to better suit City goals.
The City Manager should have a record of providing transparency into their work. Working in the public eye is key to building and maintaining public trust. Incorporating transparency into governance will bring new collaborative and productive energy into the City’s relationships with partners and the broader Cambridge community.
- The City Manager must be prepared to achieve goals set by the Council or the City even if it earns them some public criticism. Public feedback in the policy process is vital, but no issue will reach universal consensus in a city as diverse and complex as Cambridge. This means candidates must be comfortable with public criticism of their work and should have a demonstrated history of working in spaces with public or broad feedback mechanisms.
In addition to prioritizing the above traits, we urge you to continue your commitment to inclusivity throughout the search process. Two ways you can do that are to engage in deliberate outreach to renters, who as mentioned above are under-represented in these kinds of discussions, and to consider both lived and professional housing experiences as a factor when selecting Search Committee members.
The next City Manager will determine whether Cambridge makes progress on housing affordability, housing stability, housing sustainability, and housing abundance, or continues to fall into crisis. We believe a better Cambridge is possible, and we believe that the Council has an opportunity to create it in selecting our next City Manager. We are grateful for your hard work in this process.
All the best,
Allan Sadun, Co-chair, A Better Cambridge
Becca Schofield, Co-chair, A Better Cambridge
Christopher R Schmidt
David E Sullivan, Former City Councillor
Erin McHugh Saif
F. Daniel Hidalgo
Lyn A Kardatzke
and 2 others