Model Cities Program Employees Confront Corcoran in City Hall
The inevitable showdown over control of the Cambridge Model Cities program finally came to a head yesterday as 50 board and staff members participated in a day-long verbal confrontation with City Manager John H. Corcoran.
The Board demanded immediate action by Corcoran on Model Cities pay raises that have been waiting on Corcoran's desk for three weeks, a day-care center that has been pending ten weeks, and the Public Service Careers contract passed three weeks ago by the City Council.
After ten hours only one of the three issues was firmly resolved. Corcoran agreed to sign the contract continuing the day-care center in Cambridge. The PSC contract will be taken up by Cronin and Jim Farrell, attorney for the Model Cities group, today. The pay issue is still unresolved.
"This is it," explained Wally Brown, chairman of the Model Cities Board. "We either live or die on these issues. We've got to establish the fact that we are the people who cope with these things."
Cambridge is unique among the 154 Model Cities in the nation because here, control over the program has long been exercised directly by the residents of the area. Everywhere else, city hall, acting through either the mayor or the city manager dominates the program.
Fighting City Hall
Caught between pressures from both sides, the Cambridge group is fighting attempts by City Hall to take over more power in the program. At the same time it is faced by the Nixon administration's decision to turn over even more authority for Model Cities to city governments all over the nation.
The question of the proposed pay hike for staff members is perhaps the best illustration of jurisdictional dispute. Board members get no salary, and the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development pays the wages of the staff members. No local funds are involved.
The annual operating budget for Model Cities approved by both HUDand the Cambridge City Council, authorizes 11 per cent raises for most staff members and larger promotional increases for others. Corcoran, however, has refused to allow HUD to raise the salaries of the local employees that much, and has instead offered to substitute the same pay-raise plan most city employees will be receiving-8 per cent.
The relevant portion of the local ordinance states that the board has the power to hire, fire, and determine pay rates for staff, "subject to the approval of the city manager."
Members of the board feel that this clause should give Corcoran little actual power in determining pay scales, and no power to bargain. "So what if he offers you 11 per cent?" said Justin Gray, one of the founders of Cambridge Model Cities. "The point is that he has no power to offer anything."
City Solicitor Philip M. Cronin '53 gave another interpretation. "The members of the board operate in an advisory capacity only, subject to the control of the Manager, who has the power. The Manager is no rubber stamp."
One of the keys to the pay question is the ambiguous classification of the Model Cities staff as city employees. Their pay comes from HUD and they receive no retirement, social-security, job-security, overtime, or other fringe benefits that other city employees do. Because of this, Brown feels their pay should be higher than comparable city employees in other departments, who do receive these benefits. "There is a cash value to these things, and they should be compensated for not having them," he said.
According to Corcoran, however, "A fair and just settlement is to give the Model Cities staff the same raises as other city employees."
Part of Corcoran's resistance to higher raises stems from other pay contracts that are coming due. "We're voting on pay raises for police and fire departments and public works employees on Monday," said Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci. "Maybe after that Corcoran will be more willing to grant higher raises. If these other workers see the big raises given to Model Cities people, they'll want them, too."
The PSC contract would provide job training for residents of the Model Cities neighborhood. It was passed by the City Council, 7-2, despite Cronin's opposing legal interpretation. HUD indicated in July that federal funds would be forthcoming.
Cronin held up the contract and presented four technical objections to the legality of the proposal. PSC director Bill Kirby said, "Two of the objections are pretty petty, but two of them affect the guts of the program."
"The City Council took two months to pass this measure, and the one thing we did right was to carefully consider all the legal aspects of the contract," explained Councilwoman Barbara Ackermann.
Vellucci offered to call a special meeting of the City Council tonight to "air any further grievances of the Model Cities people," but a board meeting last night chose a different course.
"We've got to pursue two directions at once," explained Brown. "We're going to take this thing to the courts, and we've also got to gather community support for our position, and take it back to the City Council, and force them to do something."
A meeting with staff, the board, and members of the community early next week will decide what precise steps are to be taken.