Cambridge City Council meets privately with City Manager for rare behind-closed-doors training | New

In a rare private gathering on the Harvard campus, members of Cambridge City Council and Cambridge’s new City Manager, Yi-An Huang ’05, attended a full-day training earlier this month- here to start fostering a stronger working relationship.

During the event – held Oct. 6 at the Harvard Faculty Club – Huang, the Council and several senior city officials met to identify barriers to effective communication and ways to improve relations. between each side of the direction of the city.

The city considered the event to be exempt from Massachusetts’ open meeting law, which requires nearly all meetings between members of a “public body” to be announced at least two days in advance and open to all members of the public. Huang and several advisers said the Oct. 6 rally did not fall under the law because it was considered a “training” that did not include any discussion of specific political goals or agendas.

The Open Meetings Act includes exclusions for a “conference, training program or event”, provided that attendees do not deliberate on “any matter within the jurisdiction of the body”.

Under its charter, Cambridge’s government is headed by a city manager who oversees the day-to-day operations of the city, including the city’s budget, and implements policy goals set by a democratically elected city council. The relationship between Council and the city manager has been strained in recent years, with some councilors expressing dissatisfaction with the level of transparency and communication between the two branches.

Huang, who officially took over as city manager in early September, said in an interview that he and Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui organized the training to “create more trust, more collaboration, better communication.”

“I come into the role new and with a kind of fresh outlook,” Huang said. “It was a really good opportunity to look at what is working, where there are pain points on the Council side, where there are pain points from the city leadership, and to talk about some of the deeper values ​​and norms that we want in the relationship.”

Councilman Marc C. McGovern said city attorney Nancy E. Glowa, who attended the training, stepped in if an attendee said anything that could “veer in the wrong direction” and potentially violate the law on public meetings.

“There was no deliberation about policy, there was no discussion about goals, it wasn’t about the direction we want to take the city in,” McGovern said. “Nothing like.”

Huang said councilors expressed concerns during the training about the lack of responsiveness of city staff, while staff members said they felt “stretched” between day-to-day operational work and the demands of the city. Advice.

“I think councilors feel like they’re not being heard, they’re passing political ordinances and they really want to say, ‘the city should consider doing X, Y, Z’, and we have the impression that the city can be a black box,” Huang said.

“On the other hand,” he added, city staff get “all these new requests from Council that need to be answered, and I think sometimes they feel like it’s not not possible to do everything, and they do not do it”. I don’t feel appreciated for the good work that has actually been done.

Huang said city staff and the council are working to establish a “concrete set of communication protocols or practices.”

He added that a new chief of staff position in the city manager’s office will “create more engagement” between council and city staff.

“All of this definitely fuels the need for a bit more staff to manage what is a really important relationship,” he said.

In an interview, Siddiqui said she was working with Huang to organize a public roundtable to discuss policy priorities. She also said she hoped to schedule a separate retreat for the advisers to discuss communication between them.

—Editor Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @eschisgall.

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