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‘Civil and Constructive and Positive’: City Manager Huang Optimistic Ahead of Charter Review Committee Vote

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Cambridge City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05 says he is satisfied with his collaboration with the Cambridge City Council — a week before a pivotal Charter Review Committee meeting that could decide his future in City Hall.

Next Tuesday, the committee will take a final vote on whether to recommend a shift away from a city manager-led form of government. In a Nov. 7 meeting, the committee voted 7 to 5 in favor of a strong elected mayor system in a nonbinding vote — setting the stage for the Council to consider eliminating the city manager position entirely if repeated next week.

Under the “Plan E” system, Cambridge’s government comprises a democratically elected council and an appointed city manager, who directs the city’s departments and day-to-day operations and is largely responsible for implementing municipal policy.

“I see it less as this question of, ‘In a strong mayor system where you can directly elect the chief executive of the city, you’re getting more democracy. And then if you don’t do that, you’re getting less democracy,’” Huang said in an interview with The Crimson Thursday.

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“There’s something about the current system that’s sharing power and driving consensus, that can be seen as more inclusive, more transparent, and actually quite accountable,” he added. “But it is a different form. It’s a little harder to explain, but I think that is something of what has made Cambridge special.”

Huang recognized Cambridge’s housing challenges — which has become one of the city’s hot-button issues — while expressing hope for continuing progress.

“There is such demand to live in Cambridge; I think we have an incredible city,” he said. “That’s a bit of its own curse, because then it’s driving up housing prices in a really significant way.”

“I think there have been a ton of things that have been done on the housing policy side,” he added, citing a slate of housing measures like the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, the 100%-Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay, and the elimination of parking minimums.

Drawing from a recently collected survey of Cambridge residents, Huang said Cantabrigians seem to be concerned equally with building affordable and market-rate housing.

“There is a huge commitment to both thinking about the market but also thinking about ensuring that folks with lower incomes have a place to live and a place to stay in the city,” he said.

When asked about the ongoing contract negotiations with the Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team — a resident-led non-police response organization — Huang said he believes HEART has been treated “very fairly.”

“We’re not always the best. Sometimes we can contract a little bit faster, but this is not a unique circumstance in the sense of how we’ve approached it and what we’re expecting in terms of a budget, a proposal, an agreement that we can actually execute on, and we’re just not there,” he said.

Huang sought to put a positive spin on a year of occasionally acrimonious council meetings on issues like bike lanes and policing.

“Expecting just butterflies and roses in city council meetings seems unrealistic. We are meant to be debating the issues in front of us, but I think it’s been a really civil and constructive and positive debate over the last year that I’ve been here,” he said.

—Staff writer Jina H. Choe can be reached at jina.choe@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Samuel P. Goldston can be reached at samuel.goldston@thecrimson.com.

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