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Cambridge Kickstarts Search for Next City Manager

Cambridge City Hall is located in Central Square.
Cambridge City Hall is located in Central Square. By Thomas Maisonneuve
By Katerina V. Corr and Elias J. Schisgall, Crimson Staff Writers

The Cambridge City Council kickstarted its search for the next city manager — Cambridge’s most influential government post — last month.

The current city manager, Louis A. DePasquale, who was appointed in September 2016, plans to retire in July. The City Council’s selection process for his successor is anticipated to end in May.

Cambridge operates using a council-manager form of government, which is referred to as “Plan E” in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s General Laws. While the power to set city policy resides within the City Council, the city manager — a professional appointed by the Council — is tasked with implementing their vision and overseeing the city’s budget.

“I think a lot of people just assume that you will elect nine people, including their mayor, and those are the people that are making the decisions in the city,” said Alanna M. Mallon, vice mayor of Cambridge. “Trying to educate residents about the importance of the city manager role has been what we’re trying to do.”

Mallon, who also serves as the chair of the government operations committee, is overseeing the selection process.

Earlier this month, the City Council released an interactive portal through coUrbanize for Cambridge residents and stakeholders to share their preferences for an ideal city manager. The platform also allows stakeholders to post and respond to each other’s questions.

The city will also be hosting a town hall on Wednesday to hear directly from residents.

The process of gathering public input also includes 20 focus groups, including those for the residents with disabilities, unhoused residents, and small business owners.

“We’re hoping with all of those different ways where people can plug in,” Mallon said. “Whether they’re sitting on the T, heading to work, they can quickly let us know their feedback.”

Mallon said that she hopes this year’s selection process will be more “accessible” to Cambridge residents whose voices are less amplified in city government.

“We’re really looking for voices who don’t normally get brought to the table, are able to engage in ways where they haven’t been able to, because participation has always been a function of privilege,” Mallon said.

“We really wanted to make sure, as a city council, that we were democratizing the process and making sure that it was available and open and accessible for everyone,” she added.

The Council has dedicated the month of February to public input. The feedback received from each of these town halls, focus groups, and the online portal will be organized and refined by a third-party consulting group – Randi Frank Consulting, LLC – to create the city’s manager’s publicized job description.

Once the job description becomes public, the consulting group will compile a list of candidates and conduct preliminary interviews. A screening committee — composed of some city councilors, Cambridge residents, and stakeholders — will continue interviewing candidates and choose finalists.

Following a final round of town halls for residents to speak directly with the candidates, the Council will vote on which finalist will become the city manager.

Councilor Burhan Azeem said he hopes the city manager will focus on making Cambridge more affordable and welcoming for new residents.

“I’m very interested in a city manager who’s focused on managing growth, around like, how do we welcome more people in Cambridge? How do we make housing more affordable in Cambridge?” Azeem said. “How do you manage that change, rather than asking if there will be change.”

Mallon said her personal priorities for the next city manager include fighting inequality and advocating for vulnerable residents in Cambridge.

“I think Covid really taught us and showed us how the social safety net just doesn’t exist for many, many, many of our residents,” Mallon said. “We have an opportunity, right now, to really make policies and be reactive to what we saw over the past few years.”

“The City Council as a whole sees this as the most important thing that we will do this term,” Mallon added.

—Staff writer Katerina V. Corr can be reached at katerina.corr@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @KaterinaCorr.

—Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at elias.schisgall@thecrimson.com.

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City PoliticsCambridge City CouncilCambridgeFront Middle Feature