The Cambridge City Council met for a roundtable discussion last night, the first of four meetings to decide the city’s primary objectives for the next fiscal year.
Attendees included city councillors, ordinance committee members, central administrative staff, and Stacie N. Smith, senior associate and director of Workable Peace from Consensus Building Institute, who served as the moderator.
While most participants agreed that a "good goal" is one that is broad enough to bring together councillors, staff members, and the public, tensions concerning the budgets needed to achieve these potential goals were apparent, according to Smith.
"[An ideal goal] should be clear, achievable, and be able to be financed," said City Manager Robert W. Healy, who is in charge of creating a financial plan based on the objectives agreed upon by the councillors.
At the meeting, pamphlets were distributed stating the seven goals of the fiscal years ending 2009 and 2010, which included the promotion of a healthy environment and the creation of affordable housing. The priorities that the City Council sets during the course of the next three meetings are going to be in place for the following two fiscal years, yet the councillors only have 18 months left before elections, according to Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves.
"There is an operational problem," said Reeves, who has been on the Council for over 20 years and noted that the current City Council has more inexperienced members than in previous terms.
Councillor Marjorie C. Decker expressed pessimism about the entire goal-setting procedure.
"I stand cynical to the effect it has on the day-to-day process," Decker said. "What the Council feels that Monday night and what the community feels that week sets the agenda for months."
Asking the Council to reflect on whether this is an effective use of time, she added that it is more important to spend time deciding how to reach recurring goals, emphasizing that she does not feel these goals drastically change year-to-year.
Councillor Craig A. Kelley noted other problems with the process, adding that although the Cambridge public had stated schools to be the number one problem and crime to be the second, there was no explicit focus on crime in any of the seven 2009-2010 goals. Yet most councillors were appreciative of setting broad plans, citing that the objectives of the past fiscal year had largely been met.
"While we may not have achieved each and every bit of the goal setting, we have made considerable strides," Cambridge Mayor David P. Maher said. Many councilors agreed that Cambridge has made progress both in affordable housing and public buildings.
—Staff writer Rediet T. Abebe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.