City Council Taps Rossi To Be City Manager

In a move that upset some Cantabrigians and drew praise from others, the Cambridge City Council tapped Deputy City Manager Richard C. Rossi to replace longtime City Manager Robert W. Healy.

In their Dec. 3 meeting, the Council voted eight to one to appoint Rossi—who has served as deputy city manager since 1981—as city manager for a three-year contract. His term will begin after Healy retires on June 30.

In March, when the Council renewed Healy’s contract, councillors said that the goal of that 15-month extension was to allow time for the selection and preparation of a new manager.

In October, the Council decided to hire an outside firm to conduct that search process. At that time, they said the process would include articulating a vision of the future of the city, emphasizing that community input would play a significant role in the decision.

Councillor David P. Maher, the chair of the government operations committee, said in October that while he thought it was likely that the Council would decide to appoint an interim manager, he hoped that they would have a better sense of what they were looking for in November. But earlier this month, they decided to appoint Rossi as manager rather than hiring an interim.

The one councillor in dissention, Craig A. Kelley, said that while Rossi’s new contract is for only three years, he foresees Rossi will end up holding the position for longer. “Certainly I have no expectations that this is a three-year term,” he said.

Kelley said that while he thinks Rossi capable of being a good city manager, he objects to the process by which the decision was made.

“I thought we had promised the people of Cambridge we would have a seriously deliberative process,” he said. “Had we gone through the process, maybe the person at the end of the day is Mr. Rossi and maybe not.”

Ken Carson, formerly an active member of the Cambridge Civic Association, echoed Kelley’s concerns, saying that his opinion of the decision depends on the Council’s expectation for the length of Rossi’s tenure.

“I can live with it if it’s a three-year contract with no expectation of renewal because they will take the three years to perhaps evaluate the job description and then do a full search,” he said. “On the other hand, if this is a hire with the expectation that he will serve for 10, 12, 15 years, then I’m not wild about not having a full search.”

Councillors who voted in favor of the measure cited Rossi’s dedication and job performance as reasons for his appointment.

“He is wildly respected within the community. He has a great reputation as somebody who gets things done,” said Councillor Leland Cheung. “I think he cares deeply about the community and its long-term future.”

Cheung, who graduated in June from the Harvard Kennedy School, also explained that one of the Council’s goals in the selection process was to find a manager to lead the city through the entirety of the planning for the 2014 fiscal year, a process that begins in December.

“We were very fortunate to have someone like him who we can look to in the short term to serve as a city manager,” Cheung said.

Cheung also said that without the time pressure of needing to find a new manager before Healy’s contract expires, the Council will be able to focus its efforts on determining the city’s priorities for the future.

“We want to have a...process that engages residents and community members in thinking about the long-term direction of the city and the skill sets that will be necessary to help get us there. We want to complete that work prior to initiating the full search for a city manager because we think it will inform that search in a productive way,” Cheung said.

Kelley, who for months has been critical of the speed with which the Council has worked on replacing Healy, said that he thought the Council did not put enough thought and effort into making the decision.

“I think it reflects poorly on the Council that we couldn’t really talk about who to hire in any detail,” he said. “We just kind of opted out of the tough decision-making.”

—Staff writer Maya S. Jonas-Silver can be reached at mayajonas-silver@college.harvard.edu.

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