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Cambridge City Council Will Form Special Committee To Consider Charter Amendments

A new special committee, consisting of the full City Council and members of the now-disbanded charter review committee, will give the Council their first opportunity to fully discuss the recommendations made by the charter review committee.
A new special committee, consisting of the full City Council and members of the now-disbanded charter review committee, will give the Council their first opportunity to fully discuss the recommendations made by the charter review committee. By Julian J. Giordano
By Elyse C. Goncalves, Crimson Staff Writer

Members of the Cambridge City Council came into a Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee meeting Tuesday expecting to make substantive decisions regarding changes to the city’s charter proposed by the city’s charter review committee.

Councilor Paul F. Toner kicked off the meeting with a laundry list of suggestions that the Council had not previously discussed: a randomly selected resident assembly, setting measurable goals for city government, and modifying the city’s budget process. “I’d like to have that discussion,” Toner said.

Instead, the committee found itself bogged down in a procedural debate over how best to discuss the recommendations, emerging two hours later with a resolution to create a new joint special committee — and a distinct sense of frustration.

“Every time we have these meetings where we have a list of things that you, as the chair, want us to talk about, and then we get into this kind of open discussion, and then we’re like, ‘Oh, we’re out of time,’” Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern said.

The new special committee, consisting of the full City Council and members of the now-disbanded charter review committee, will give the Council their first opportunity to fully discuss the recommendations made by the charter review committee.

But it also adds an extra procedural step in a charter review process already marked by delays and indecision.

The 15-member charter review committee began meeting in August 2022, hoping to finish their review within one year. Two extensions and 17 months later, the committee issued a final report in January which proposed a slew of changes to the city government but failed to make a recommendation on what many saw as the most important issue at stake: whether the city would maintain its current council-manager form of government.

Though the Council discussed proposed changes to municipal elections and voting eligibility during a June 5 meeting, they likewise did not come to a final vote on the proposals themselves.

During the hearing, councilors passed a motion recommending that the new special committee only consider proposed changes to the charter which received a two-thirds vote from the charter review committee.

But the recommendation is nonbinding, meaning that the Council will still be able to discuss more fundamental changes to the city’s form of government — something Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui said was a crucial part of the charter review process.

“I do think it’s important that the Council still have a discussion on the form of government because fundamentally, that is the biggest thing we could be doing,” Siddiqui said.

Councilors also said the special committee would allow for a dedicated space for the full Council to discuss the charter review recommendations in depth.

Councilor Patty M. Nolan ’80, who attended the hearing, said she wished the entire Council could be present for the full discussion. “Why have the conversation in two places in this committee and then before the Council?” Nolan asked.

Councilor Ayesha M. Wilson added that including members from the charter review committee would give the Council a better understanding of the recommendations at play.

“It was a body of quite a few people and really thinking about how they came to decisions that were made in terms of the recommendations that were put forward,” Wilson said. “I think it is important to have them come in and be a part of a conversation with us.”

—Staff writer Elyse C. Goncalves can be reached at elyse.goncalves@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @e1ysegoncalves or on Threads @elyse.goncalves.

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