Council Seeking Diversity, Collaboration in New City Manager Search

Hannah Erickson, Contributing Writer

After six years in office, City Manager Louis DePasquale is retiring. In January, the City of Cambridge began a nationwide search process to replace him, with an expected hiring date of May 2022. The city manager is the most powerful city employee in Cambridge. This arrangement is in contrast to a city like Boston, where the mayor has more authority. The city manager is in charge of the executive branch, making important decisions in running the city, including proposing the budget. “They have enormous power, and even though in theory they should be implementing the Council’s priorities, they can legally refuse to do what we ask,” City Councilor Quinton Zondervan told the Register Forum.

The city manager is the most powerful city employee in Cambridge.

This year’s search is seeking a more diverse pool of applicants than in years past. “In 2016 when we last did a search not only was the manager we chose a white man the other two finalists were also white men,” Vice Mayor Mallon told the RF. To address this problem, the Council has added a page in the city manager job description that describes the Cambridge AntiRacism, Equity, and Inclusion Initiative, an effort by the city to “incorporate anti-racism, equity, and inclusion” in hiring and promotion.

Since February, the City of Cambridge has been running focus groups and hosting town hall meetings to give residents an opportunity to voice their preferences about the search. Steve LaMaster, attendee of one of these meetings, praised the process. “A lot of thought went into inviting a wide variety of parties to share perspectives; neighborhoods, small businesses, students and young people, etc.” Several issues under the city manager’s control affect students, including bus passes. “Right now we only provide free bus passes for students that are on free or reduced lunch,” Vice Mayor Alanna Mallon told the RF. “With the city manager’s support, we could expand this to all students.” The previous manager has refused to act upon this issue.

Residents also frequently raised the issue of housing affordability in public discussions of the city manager search. Jess Sheehan, a member of the community group A Better Cambridge, said at a town hall meeting on March 3rd, “The number one priority should be housing. If you can’t afford to live here, it doesn’t matter much to you what the second priority is, because you won’t be here to benefit from it.” There are many actions the city manager could take to make housing more affordable in Cambridge.

Bike safety was also mentioned. “We’re hoping the city can hire someone who understands that Cantabrigians have been advocating and planning for decades for better bike infrastructure, and that the city’s job is to quickly implement these improvements,” Joe Poirier, a member of the community group Cambridge Bike Safety, wrote in an email to the RF. Council members expressed enthusiasm about having a renewed, cooperative, partnership with the city manager. “In the past there has been a break between the council and the manager,” said Alanna Mallon. “We are really hoping to break that mold and I am truly excited about working collaboratively to serve our city.”