Cambridge City Council streamlines proceedings

MD-Cambridge city council_gateway prop

Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper
The view from US Rt. 50 of the Cambridge “Gateway Property,” being the filling station and the old Burger King property between Byrn Street and Maryland Avenue. Development of the property will include public input, according to Cambridge City Council.

CAMBRIDGE — The first City Council Meeting of the year was a model of efficiency. The Consent Calendar, a structured map of how the meeting should go, is an innovative change. Starting with approval for “Licenses for Events” in town, six or seven recommended items at a time brought swift approval.

Council members followed recommendations of staff members who had already checked out and approved the permit seekers in an “Application for a Special Event License.” They were a second Saturday event-Early Childhood Advisory Council Event, Paddy on Popular Event, and Farmers’ Market Events. Copies of the request applications were provided for the press and public to read. Continuation of current marina fees were also approved, as recommended.

Over the last year, I have covered the City Council, and this next paragraph is only my opinion. In search of efficiency, something is lost. Gone is the cast of live people who sought permits and noise variances … the young and earnest designated-family rep for a clan’s reunion, a leader of Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, the bar and business people and their extravaganzas, musicians and marchers, church groups, sororities wanting to fix playgrounds … people of all ages, all colors, some charming accents, athletic interests, intellectual interests, and oh, what a colorful list it was, connecting our commissioners and ourselves to the contributions, celebrations and ambitions of citizens. No doubt, the new system has proved to be more time-efficient. However, the Commissioners will see fewer faces, experience fewer voices and accents, have less contact with young people who were proud to interact with city leaders in a governmental setting. A commissioner’s delighted laughter, an unexpected question, a surprisingly articulate response from a promising kid, is lost. But 45 minutes, maybe an hour has been gained. I measure the loss, someone else is looking at the gain. But I promise this is my last homily on the parade.

A very important innovation in the council proceedings was copies of the Council Agenda Report. Heads of departments, e.g. Pat Esher, city planner, Mary Calloway, Economic Development, Ginger Heatwole, Finance, prepared reports on issues before the council. The reports included background/discussion, fiscal impact and recommendations. The reports were submitted to the City Manager, Sandra Tripp-Jones, who then presented them to Commissioners, with copies available to the press and public. The reports give the public an understanding of the issue and a transparency in government workings.

Some facets of a grant application to the Chesapeake Bay Trust Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Town program was discussed and the recommendation to apply was not approved; instead an application of intent was discussed and approved. Also, a day care ordinance which has been discussed for several months was given a second reading with testimony from Melissa Slacum and Danielle Dickson. Both women spoke for the elimination of requirements for the residence of the owner of the property. They spoke of the need for encouragement of easing the ordinance and not making it impossible to provide much needed day care in Cambridge.

One agenda topic discussed affects not just Cambridge residents, but all the drivers who cross the bridge and are confronted with a blighted area instead of an attractive gateway. In the public hearing, Lou Hyman, president of the Dorchester Skipjack Committee, who would like to see more people seek out the Nathan for recreation and history, said, “They drive over the bridge and the first thing they see is a vacant building.”

The city has acquired the property. The Calloway Report recommends the council authorize an application to the Community Development Block Grant for $325,000 for cleanup and restoration. It passed. A discussion with public input on what will go there to promote Cambridge and welcome visitors should follow. The report says staff will have plans for a process that will include public input in the final design.

Even with major issues on the agenda, the council meeting proceeded at a brisk pace, and civility and efficiency were evident in the innovations.

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