Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Cambridge City Manager finalists answer questions at public forum last night

The three candidates for Cambridge city manager stood before a half-full room of Cambridge residents at the Fitzgerald Theater at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School last night to answer questions about exactly what kind of city manager they would be. They fielded queries on a wide range of topics, from urban forestry to police practices to fiscal health, and their knowledge and their style were on display.

The three finalists for the city's top job are Jay Ash, secretary for housing and economic development in the Commonwealth and former city manager of Chelsea, Paul Fetherston, the assistant city manager in Ashville NC and Louie DePasquale, Cambridge's Assistant City Manager for Fiscal Affairs.

Each candidate gave an opening statement and then answered 11 questions in 45 minutes from moderators who had compiled the questions from citizen input. All candidates were asked the same 11 questions.

Since the electeds need to deliberate this and come up with their choice -- the most important actual vote the Council gets to make -- I will offer only these general observations about the three.

Two of the candidates are undeniably local. Jay Ash was born and raised in Chelsea and has worked there and on Beacon Hill as a legislative aide and now as the Commonwealth's Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, and Louie DePasquale is Cambridge born and raised with a long career in Cambridge City Hall. Both Ash and DePasquale represent a deep knowledge of local issues and they will feel very much at home on Day 1 with the challenges and opportunities we confront. Their understanding of Massachusetts politics and policy making will be helpful to them in this. Louie DePasquale can take this even one step further since his career has been about leading fiscal and budget matters in the city over the past two decades. As such, he can take some justifiable credit for making Cambridge the amazing municipal powerhouse that it is. If there is a push for continuity, it will be found in these two candidates, with Louie being the stronger of the two.

If however there is a push for change and newness, then Paul Fetherston from North Carolina will fit that bill quite well. He is a bright bulb, lacking perhaps the gravitas of the other two, but with a sensible and sensitive understanding of the crosscurrents that are impacting American society right now. With his experience in Boulder, CO as well as in Ashville, he brings a breadth of perspective to his deliberations. The only critique I heard was that he didn't command the room, expressed more evocatively as, "he looked like someone who had just stepped into his father's suit." That may be a bit harsh as an assessment but it is an observation worth noting. 

Cambridge has three good choices to choose from, though the lack of women or people of color in the pool is immediately noticeable. Three white men making up the final grouping is disappointing, though I am hearing that the executive search firm did make good efforts to broaden the pool in the process. Accurate or not, I can't say. I do know that I will be very interested to see which direction the Council chooses, continuity or change. There are pluses and minuses to both. Let's all stay tuned.

The next stop for the three candidates is a session with the City Council, so the councillors can query the three on topics of interest to them.

I include the bios provided of the three below ...

Jay Ash

Paul Fetherston

Louie DePasquale

The room last night, during the first presentation (Jay Ash is speaking)

Robert “Jay” Ash Jr. - Mr. Ash is currently the Secretary of Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Previously he served in a variety of roles in the City of Chelsea, including fourteen-years as City Manager. Mr. Ash also served as a legislative aide to Representative Richard Voke.  He is a graduate of Clark University.
Louis A. DePasquale - Mr. DePasquale is the City’s Assistant City Manager for Fiscal Affairs in Cambridge.  Prior to taking on that assignment, he was the City’s Budget Director, and has also worked in other capacities in the City’s Budget and Treasury Departments. Mr. DePasquale is a graduate of Boston State College and received his MPA from Northeastern University.
Paul J. Fetherston - Mr. Fetherston is currently the Assistant City Manager in Asheville, NC.  He has previously served as Deputy City Manager in Boulder, CO, and has held a variety municipal management positions in Connecticut. He is a graduate of Trinity College, CT and received his J.D. from Western New England School of Law.