Cambridge City earns highest grade

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Special to Dorchester Banner/Gloria Rojas The question of 202 High Street was asked, who should pay for code violations, the new owner or the neighbors who tried to keep the property from total ruin, or should the violations be waived upon completion of repairs?

CAMBRIDGE — Did you know this month is Municipal Government Month, proclaimed in the City Council Meeting on Nov. 10? With a wide-ranging agenda to cover, the City Council chose to open this session on a significantly positive note — the Annual Audit Report. Serving some pie graphs, the auditors from PKS & Company proclaimed that Cambridge had earned its highest grade possible. The city’s revenues were greater than expenditures, a laudable goal for all of us.

MD-Cambridge city council-Gloria_House2_1colMuch of the rest of the session was figuring out where some of that money would go. Consider 202 High St., a beautiful house that burned years ago and became an eyesore on that historic avenue. A group of neighbors organized to save it from demolition with their own money plus some from the Maryland Historic Trust. Now they have a buyer to finish much needed work. The problem? Over the years, the damaged, vacant house has been cited for code violations. Who should pay? The public-spirited citizens who came to the rescue with thousands of dollars they may never see again? The new buyer who wasn’t around to incur those fines? Or perhaps the city with the marvelous audit figures could waive them. The council voted no on that, proposing instead to let the buyer post an escrow bond until repairs are made. Then he/she can get back his money. Tune in for further developments.

It was the Little League that scored the generous vote of the night. Their ballfield, owned by the Rescue Fire Company, and leased to the Little League for one dollar a year for 99 years, needs a new shed. Jason Shorter of the league requested a waiver of the permit fee (less than $100.) The Council voted. The kids are safe but the fee is OUT!
The next item concerns Ordinance 1039 and the speed cameras. Drivers exceeding the speed limit have been issued fines, but some have sped away from the fines too. The company that runs the speed cameras wants an ordinance authorizing the collection of the fines plus penalty late fees. Voting no, Council members put the brakes on Ordinance 1039; however, the discussion became a question of “Revenues vs. Safety.” Is the purpose of cameras to keep kids safe or to bring in revenue? A contract with the company involved comes up for renewal and council members will not be the only ones watching that carefully.

The council approved the MDOT Grant agreement for wharf replacement work. Some $7,000,000 will be spent on the waterfront work, but the money comes from state grants.
More project discussions included lighting for Christ Rock, an annexation to Cambridge in need of lights. The funding of the final stages of asbestos removal and new heating and AC systems costing a total of $36,550 means the Council can finally return to their regular chambers. The target date is the first meeting in December.

Another source of income, the Drug Forfeiture Account, money that comes from illegal drug arrests and seizures, is earmarked for police work expenses; therefore, Council approved $29,717 to be used to replace the body cameras issued to Cambridge officers in a pilot program. Those cameras have proven useful, but not durable. New ones to be purchased from Taser International will be of better quality. According to Lt. Mark Lewis of the Cambridge Police, the cameras protect the officers from false citizen complaints, they protect the public because they show how the police officers behave and they bring out better interaction. They also protect the city from false claims and civil liabilities. Accountability goes up, complaints go down.

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Special to Dorchester Banner/Gloria Rojas The Mayor, smiling.

But of all the actions weighed and decided by the City Council, Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley says, “The most important bit of legislation this council will ever decide is the City Manager position.” Since the public work session at Sailwinds, which opened the discussion and gathered input from citizens and business people, Charter Resolution 01 and 02 have been changed. The City Manager loses some proposed responsibilities, but the discussion continues. Mayor Jackson-Stanley has some concerns about the ceremonial role left to the mayor. She says, ”Technically, I show up…and smile.” Clearly not enough, for this mayor, or perhaps any mayor who chooses to run for office with a vision for Cambridge.

For others, the “City manager concept” of a non-elected, full-time person running the day-to-day operations is a travesty of the democratic process and they seek a referendum to achieve public participation. The matter remains a topic of discussion, still incorporating new changes before a final vote.

Amy Craig wants a different kind of public participation. She came to the council meeting to invite everyone to the Cambridge Christmas Tree Lighting on Nov. 29 starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Circuit Court Courthouse. (If you want a sneak peek, the tree will be raised at the Courthouse on Nov. 22.)

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