We continue to be vexed by the pandemic. Some states are beginning to reopen, but many think this is a mistake. We should be very cautious in how we proceed because the damage of a major rebound in cases and another shutdown would be unbearable. We are much better off coming out of this slowly and carefully, putting in place good strategies for suppressing flare-ups of the virus, and planning for the long haul, because COVID-19 looks to be with us for years to come. The choices we make, and the way we proceed, will say a lot about what we value as a society.
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City Manager’s Agenda
CMA #1: City Manager’s update on COVID-19
This is another placeholder because the City Manager prefers to deliver his update in person on Monday night. But I would prefer to receive something in writing ahead of time.
CMA #2: FY21 Budget Appropriation Orders
Budget season is upon us, and here is a list of the FY21 Budget Appropriation Orders, broken down by city department. Customarily we don’t vote on these until after the budget hearings, so there is plenty of time to go through the budget and make sense of everything. It looks like there were no reductions in the operating budget, which is in fact slightly larger ($702.4 million) than last year’s budget ($678.4 million). The public investments portion of the capital budget ($37 million, not including bond proceeds) also seems higher than last year’s ($27 million). We will have to wait for the manager’s explanation, but presumably, these numbers are less than they would have been if COVID-19 had not hit. We may see much deeper impacts on subsequent budgets because property taxes are based on the market of 1.5 years ago.
Charter Right #1: Revisions to the mandatory mask order
The debate continues over this policy order from Councillor Nolan that proposes changes to the city’s mandatory mask order. The Governor’s order is now in effect but differs from the city in several ways, and clarification is needed. I also want to see a reduced fine, particularly on the first offense, and data on any enforcement that occurs by race, age, and gender. You can read a detailed breakdown of the differences between the city and state orders, plus my rationale for seeking these changes, in this thread. If you missed it, start with my thread from last week first to get caught up on the situation.
Tabled #4: Summer camp operations
This late addition to last week’s agenda from Councillor Simmons asks for clarity on whether summer camps and other youth programming will proceed. It also asks for contingency plans for Cambridge youth in the event programming needs to be canceled or scaled back. The order was tabled last week after it was pointed out that the language might not cover everything we want to ask about. I anticipate Councillor Simmons will bring forward amendments and we will pass this order on Monday night.
Resolution #5: Congratulating Karen Chen
I submitted this Resolution along with Councillor Sobrinho-Wheeler to congratulate Karen Chen on her recent inclusion in the Boston Magazine list of “The 100 Most Influential People in Boston Right Now”. Karen is the Executive Director of the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) and an East Cambridge resident. Under her leadership, the CPA has become a leading voice in the struggle for tenant protections including rent control, against wage theft & other unfair labor practices, and in combating racism against all Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have had many opportunities to work with Karen, including last year’s successful push for better working conditions at the Happy Lamb Hot Pot in Central Square. There are many excellent choices on the Boston Magazine list, but Karen’s inclusion is a refreshing reminder of the important and underappreciated role played by women of color in the movement for greater justice in our society.
PO #1: Curbside textile recycling program
This Policy Order from Councillor Toomey asks for the city to implement Simple Recycling’s curbside textile recycling program. In fact, the city’s Zero Waste Master Plan (released in October 2019) specifically mentions the Simple Recycling program as one way that the city could implement a textile recycling program and it recommends doing so in 2020 or 2021. I chaired a hearing on the city’s plan last term, and this was discussed. This is one of many environmental initiatives that I would like to see move forward this year, once we are through this period of emergency. I will ask to be added as a cosponsor to this order in acknowledgment of my previous work on the issue, and hopefully, this will move ahead as close to on schedule as possible.
PO #2: Update on the Small Business Advisory Group
This policy order from Councillor Nolan asks for an update on what recommendations are being discussed by the Small Business Advisory Group that was appointed by the City Manager. I support the calls for more information on what the group has been discussing.
PO #3: Recycling Accessibility
This Policy Order from Councillor Toomey aims to improve accessibility to recycling for residents by reopening the Recycling Center for a limited time and strategically placing recycling bins across the city for residents who are unable to reach the Recycling Center. The order fixates on plastic bags, which many retailers have begun using again during the COVID-19 pandemic. Neither of these ideas strike me as terribly practical solutions to the supposed problem, but I will ask DPW to get some clarification on that.
PO #4: More information about the Police Department Twitter incident
I signed onto this Policy Order from Councillor Sobrinho-Wheeler, which asks for more information about a very unfortunate incident that took place on Twitter last week, where Police Superintendent Jack Albert tweeted a political statement vulgarly disparaging two elected officials from the Commonwealth while logged into the official Cambridge Police Department Twitter account. While he has apologized for “accidentally” using the official police account, the sentiments he expressed are disturbing nonetheless, coming from a high-level police official.
The issue of police bias continues to remain a problem and is reflected in this incident: by expressing vulgar distaste for “liberal” politicians, who tend to advocate for the poor, and routinely receive a majority of the black vote, this tweet can easily be interpreted as bias against poor people and black people in our city.
This Policy Order asks for details on what disciplinary action has been taken, and for a report on how protocols have been revised to avoid future issues on social media. The Council may have to go into executive session to hear about the disciplinary action.
PO #5: Solidarity with the workers of Lesley University
I submitted this Resolution, which puts the Council on record in support of better conditions for contracted workers at Lesley. The petition from students and faculty calls for continuity of wages and benefits for all food service, custodial, and public safety workers on campus, among other things. Local 26 was able to secure benefits for the dining hall workers, but not wages, and the union doesn’t represent other workers on campus.
Communications & Reports from Other City Officers
COF #1: Update from the May 5 School Committee meeting
This is an update from Mayor Siddiqui on the recent School Committee meeting about the upcoming budget. Once again, I appreciate the swift and informative writeup from Mayor Siddiqui and her staff. It is clear she understands how important this conversation is to many of us on the council, and I’ve kept a close eye on things as they’ve unfolded, in the hopes that the next budget will actually take significant steps towards addressing racial inequity in our schools. Hopefully, the Committee’s decision to table a final vote on their budget means that things will improve before the budget comes to the Council for final approval.
COF #2: Update on food insecurity work & resources
This is a helpful update on the work Vice Mayor Mallon and Food For Free have been doing around food insecurity. COVID-19 has certainly presented us with significant additional food insecurity challenges and I’m actively working with the Vice Mayor on policy design to get ahead of this challenge as much as possible. I appreciate her leadership on this issue as always, and the important work that Food For Free and other community partners are doing to help combat hunger during this terrible pandemic. Hopefully we can learn from this to combat hunger more effectively after the pandemic is over.