Controversy dominates City Council meeting

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CAMBRIDGE — Two important and very controversial issues dominated the agenda at the City Council meeting this week and both brought the public into heated discussions with the commissioners.

First, The Sailwinds Development Project: is the city overlooking a grand opportunity? Second, the status of the City Manager process brought a startling question to the discussion: who’s running the city now that the referendum is dead and an acting city manager should be in place?

But first, Sailwinds. When the state gave the waterfront property to the City of Cambridge, the signed agreement determined a sum of $1.8 million, the minimum amount the selected developer must pay to purchase the property. But members of the public were quick to bring up the question, why sell it? Once the waterfront land is sold, speakers asserted, Cambridge will have surrendered a glorious asset that it can never get back.

John Shanahan, a businessman from Trappe, has been following the negotiations, and was eloquent about the Sailwinds property. ”You have a jewel. The so-called wharf is a structural pier, a valuable asset, the second deepest port in Maryland. Don’t let the land get away.”

He urged the commissioners to develop a master plan, to formulate a vision, to control the city’s own destiny. Mr. Shanahan sees the possibility of a centerpiece that can attract jobs, tourism, house the museum, with a long term gain for Cambridge. Other speakers echoed the sentiment that once the developer is selected and buys the land, the city will have lost a grand opportunity to oversee an enviable and enduring waterfront project that belongs to it.

City Attorney Robert Collison advised that the community must be cognizant that Cambridge is bound by an agreement with the state because of the conditions of the transfer. Some citizens believe that the papers of transfer mandate the minimum amount of a sale, but do not bar the city retaining the land and still working with a developer. Commissioner Jackie Vickers appeared to agree that rethinking was a possibility. She said, ”We should not rush into signing an MDA.” There’s time to reconsider options.

There’s no time on the other major issue at the council meeting. The second major item on the agenda was the matter of a city manager. All the five commissioners are now behind it. Commissioner Sydnor, who had supported the referendum for a citywide vote, graciously announced “I am willing to abide with the transition.”

However, Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley made a startling announcement: “No one is running the city right now.”

An important part of the city manger provision was getting an acting manager while a search committee worked on finding qualified candidates for the permanent position. But that was not done because of the referendum delay. Consequently, there is no acting city manager. Mr. Sydnor made a motion to appoint Oden Wheeler, acting clerk/treasurer to the post. “Can we find someone in a short time or can we use Mr. Wheeler as a de facto city manager in the interim?”

But a citizen, Steve Rideout, jumped up and said, “Cambridge needs new eyes. Wheeler is not qualified.” The requirements for the job are five years experience in running a municipality or equivalent and a Master’s degree. Other people stood at the podium and backed Rideout’s stance. That motion went down.

The mayor’s concern was that they were acting illegally and who would sign the city employees paychecks? That potentially disastrous question was remedied with another motion and the city will function. But a scramble is on for the interim city manager. Mayor Jackson- Stanley will be gathering names and interviewing to get someone post haste.

Another step in the appointment of a permanent city manager requires a search committee of five people plus the Mayor. Each of the commissioners made one recommendation. The members of the search committee will be Wayne Towers, Philip Feldman, Andy Pasden, Kisha Petticolas and Mary Lofty.

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