As Healy Departs, Cambridge City Council Looks to Find Replacement

City Council, whose job it is to appoint the city manager, may look to a search committee to find possible successors

With longtime City Manager Robert W. Healy’s contract due to expire in June 2013, the Cambridge City Council has begun the search for his replacement.

Though the Council has yet to delineate a clear strategy for the selection process, councillors have a variety of criteria in mind as they attempt to make what will likely be Cambridge city government’s most important decision this year.

In Cambridge, the City Council hires a city manager who is in charge of the city’s day-to-day affairs, including drafting a budget and overseeing most of the city's staff. Since Cambridge is run by an appointed executive rather than by the mayor or the elected legislative body, the choice of a manager is among the most significant decisions the Council makes.

The Council has not had to find a new city manager since Healy took the position 30 years ago, and councillors said they will conduct a meticulous search process.

“It’s really an opportunity to apply some introspection,” Councillor E. Denise Simmons said, adding that the Council will continually ask itself, “How do we see ourselves as a city?”

On June 22, the Government Operations and Rules Committee met to discuss the process. Six of the nine councillors were in attendance, and Councillor Leland Cheung participated via conference call.

Cheung, who is a student at the Harvard Kennedy School and the MIT Sloan School of Management, spoke about the importance of soliciting feedback from Cantabrigians.

“We want to have opportunity for community input early in the process to find what it is we’re looking for and are looking to accomplish,” Cheung said.

Simmons, who was at the meeting, also envisioned a process that would consider the opinions of many stakeholders. She said that she would like to hire an independent search bureau to conduct a preliminary search for candidates.

“Once the candidates are identified and we get down to the finals, of course the City Council has the final word on who the City Manager will be,” Simmons told The Crimson.

Simmons, who in 2008 became the nation’s first openly lesbian African-American mayor, said that she hoped diversity would be considered in the decision.

“We’ve never had a person of color; we’ve never had a woman,” she said.

Councillor Craig A. Kelley spoke about the end of Healy’s tenure as a chance to change the city.

“It’s an opportunity to determine where our future lies,” Kelley said. “I don’t know that the job going forward is the same as it has been in the past.”

For Kelley, who often stresses public education at Council meetings, “the number one issue in the city time and again is education.” He said he hopes the new city manager will also put a high priority on education in Cambridge going forward.

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

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