Always a parade of activity at Cambridge City Council

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CAMBRIDGE — The Cambridge City Council’s regular session sometimes seems a bit like a parade, with speakers and complainants passing through before the Mayor and the five Commissioners. While very serious business is discussed and acted on, the agenda can also include some light moments, some inspiring moments, and some downright amusing albeit necessary material. Monday night, citizens filled the chambers and experienced a slice of life in Cambridge, ranging from the controversial issue of a city manager change to a delightful presentation by the high school student who led the parade.
Bassey Arikpo is a Key Club member at Cambridge-South Dorchester High School, a volunteer on civic projects like Christmas tree trimming and decorations, like hot chocolate maker at the high school Flea Market, and also works part-time at a local restaurant. This busy young man is full of interests and ideas and has faculty and community support to implement them. On Monday night, accompanied by Brandon Hesson, director of Main Street, Bassey explained Spring Fling, an event to entertain the community and raise money for school projects. His invitation extended to the Mayor and Commissioners and the public as well. Posters around town will provide information and reminders.
An ordinance (1045) that covers the provisions for Floodplain Management was passed unanimously by the Council. It modernizes the old ordinance with some more stringent revisions, and some new language. What was once contained on two pages now overflows onto 27 sheets.
A resolution to approve a DBED agreement funding the Long Wharf replacement was approved, the sum being $500,000. Also approved was the expenditure of $50,000 in Maryland Bay Trust grant money for planning and design work on Long Wharf. Approval to cut a check for a new lawn mower was also given, that expense being $3,500.
An exciting development that has been approved is a radio tower lease for a new radio station. Mike Starling explained that the new station, WHCP, will focus on Cambridge events, provide reading for the blind, and opportunities for local programming. The lease will give the city $225 a month in a five year lease.
For many citizens attending the Council meeting, the main event was the update on the possible referendum. The requirement of petitions by 1,645 signatures was met two Council meetings ago but the voters’ signatures must be checked and verified. Mayor Victoria Jackson Stanley said she met with the Board of Elections to ask them to verify the 1,645 signatures on petitions for referendum. She said she asked for their cooperation humbly, but was refused. The Board does not want the duty. Someone has to do it.
The Mayor proposed that she and Clerk/Treasurer Oden Wheeler verify the petitions and insure the signers were registered Cambridge voters. The Commissioners rejected that proposal and discussed other possibilities: former judges of previous elections, the League of Women Voters, or an outside agency, to insure fairness in the count. Speakers also iterated their positions that the voters should decide on the issue of city manager, and the division remains. The Council must explore new ways to get the petitions verified in the specified time period, without any appearance of impropriety.
The last two items before the Mayor and Commissioners also concerned appearance, but it was the appearance of the city that was cause for citizens’ concern. The issue of distributed free papers becoming litter on the street and in yards was revisited by Dave Thatcher, the man who first introduced the situation to Council. The response by City Attorney Robert Collison was that his research indicates that the newspapers cannot be banned by ordinance because a free press is a constitutional right. Mr. Thatcher wanted the Council to act swiftly on a ban, and pointed to the Council’s quick action when invasive bamboo became a problem. Mr. Collison and the mayor said it was not the same (In fact, bamboo has no constitutional rights). One possible solution is asking citizens to call the newspapers if they want to opt out of delivery and not be bothered. Mr. Thatcher suggests that the papers be available through grocery stores. We await the solution.
One last aesthetic matter. A citizen came to the microphone to report that a dog or dogs are pooping in the traveled alley between public eateries on Poplar Street. A very unappetizing problem, but the city does not own the alley and can’t step in. The scooping law that compels pet owners to clean up after their pets doesn’t apply to private property.
The Council meeting and its lively parade ended the way a circus parade would end, with brooms and mops following the marching elephants.

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