As 2023 drew to a close, I had some time to think back on the year, pondering what the City accomplished, what it is still working on, and what more we need to do in 2024 and beyond. I decided to put together a 2023 recap in the time-honored, end of the year tradition of preparing a list. Although my list was decidedly less interesting than the typical media ones like Top 5 Celebrity Marriages of 2023 or 7 Habits to Jumpstart the New You, I wanted to offer some numbers that jumped out at me as I reflected on the past year.
0 – The amount of PFAS detected in Cambridge’s water system. PFAS is commonly known as “forever chemicals” and is a carcinogen now found in most public water supplies. That we have found none in our water system is incredibly good news.
0.8096 – The City’s property tax rate this fiscal year, the same as it was in FY 23 and lower than it was in the previous five years. This is essentially 81 cents per $100 of real estate value. The City is trying to hold it steady in the upcoming budget year.
1 – The employee ranking I am assigning to Executive Assistant Tyasia Johnson who has worked in the City Manager’s Office for a full year now. Tyasia is the glue that holds the CMO together. She is as close to perfection as any mortal I have ever met, and she is here to help you anyway she can.
2 – The number of checklists Administrative Services Director Ina Holden has created. One checklist is for onboarding a new employee, and the other is for whenever an employee separates from City service. All City department heads were issued copies of The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande and asked to develop checklists for municipal use. We need more systems in place to help us reduce errors and manage processes, and checklists are a great tool. Department heads have also been issued copies of The Sum of Us by Heather McGee and Dear White Friend by Mel Gravely. I recommend all three books.
3 – The number of certified police officers the CPD hired in 2023. Combined with new officers graduating from the academy less officers who have left CPD, we now have 37 sworn police officers. These three certified police officers have been essential to the CPD rebuilding efforts. Assuming the two recent academy graduates complete their field training successfully in the coming weeks, three of our four patrol squads will have a full complement of six officers of various ranks on duty. The other squad has five officers of various ranks on duty at a given time. (Of course, on any given shift the number of officers patrolling may be reduced by training, vacations, court, sick leave, or some other duty. But the point is our certified officers are helping us rebuild the patrol function staffing levels.)
3.829 – The true interest cost (TIC) as a percentage for the $2,500,000 the Commissioners of Cambridge borrowed in April for the West End Sewer Project. The good news is this interest rate is better than assumed in the 2022 utility white paper pro forma. The bad news is the City needed another $500,000 or so to undertake the project in 2024. Council awarded the contract on January 8th and the project should start next month with plans that it will be completed in 2024.
4 – The number of small geographic areas moving from one ward to another to rebalance the City’s wards for the next few years. About 97% of Cambridge residents remain in the ward they are already in, and the five wards are even closer in population size than in the last redistricting process.
5 – The number of employees who were dismissed from employment by the City in 2023. Two were dismissed for gross misconduct, one was let go for not meeting standards during his probationary period, and two did not pass necessary classes to continue employment. While we never wish to see employees separated involuntarily, we need to uphold clear standards for performance and conduct.
6 – The number of extra months Assistant City Manager Brandon Hesson served in the dual role of acting Director of Public Services and Director of Development. When he returned to the City in February, I expected him to serve in this split capacity for two months and it ended up being eight months in total. I so appreciate the extra work he did running two complex departments, both in the midst of reorganization processes. Staffing has been a challenge for the City, as it has been for many organizations.
7 – The number of departments we have in our revised organizational chart if we include the Rescue Fire Company as a City department. And we should, as RFC provides an incredibly valuable service to our community, and I too often fail to call out the hard work and service RFC provides our community.
8 – Employee evaluations I completed (or almost) last year for staff reporting to me for some or all of 2023. CPD and Finance each did performance reviews annually as part of their own department procedures before I became city manager, but the rest of the organization has had a spottier record of annual performance reviews. Setting up a management system that gives clear and candid feedback to all employees is essential to improving our operations. Evaluations need to be forward-looking too, to give specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, timely (SMART) goals for employees. One simply does not hit a target that has not been identified. The City is putting in place systems for all employees to have an annual review, too.
9 – The number of employees the City hired who took a third-party, pre-employment personality assessment which I have found to be very helpful in the hiring process. It is not determinant, but it is a very useful tool to include in our overall candidate review process for professional roles.
10 – The number of additional Work Sessions City Council held in 2023 to discuss a wide range of topics, including special elections, ward realignment, the draft budget, and housing. This figure excludes two joint work sessions held with our legislative delegation in January and with Dorchester County in July. I subtracted these two joint work sessions only because I already had what I thought was a clever idea for number 12.
12 – This is the number of bonus months of public service the City will receive from George Hyde, the City Engineer for 25 years. Technically, only one of these 12 months (December) of additional service was in 2023, so this should really be in the 2024 list (spoiler alert!). But I think it is worth mentioning how fortunate we are to have another year of George’s service to our community. Bucky Jackson is now officially the City Engineer, and George will be known as our Senior Projects Engineer.
13 – Portia Johnson-Ennels interns employed in 2023. We will continue this program for at least four more years and expect to have ten in 2024. Staff learned a lot through the first year of this new program, and we hope to make it better each year. The absolute highlight of my year was the reaction from the interns when Greg Olinde from Bay Vanguard announced his bank was opening accounts in each intern’s name with $500 in it. Two of the PJE interns remain working with the City, and one has become our first ever Stafford Fellow in 2024 (Cameron Waters who works in Finance).
24 – The number of paid weeks of parental leave employees enjoyed after welcoming a new baby. (One employee who was the birth parent enjoyed 12 weeks and two non-birth parents enjoyed six weeks apiece.) This was the first fiscal year we offered this benefit, and it is part of a broader review of benefits and policies we are examining to increase our organizational competitiveness and be an employer of choice.
27 – The number of new employees hired in 2023. Of these, 14 are people of color, 3 are women, and 2 identify as members of the LGBTQ community. We have a long way to go to make our organization a better reflection of our community, particularly in senior and professional positions. But we are making progress.
30 – The number of years Oliver “CeeCee” Freeman has served the City of Cambridge Department of Public Services as of September in 2023. First Sergeant Jose Hernandez and City Engineer George Hyde each clocked 25 years of service this year. Three employees are now able to say that they have worked for the City for 20 years: Lisa Jones in CPD, Tynell Molock in the water division of Public Services, and Lavonte Edmonds of the buildings and grounds division of Public Services. It’s a bit strange to think about how CeeCee has quite a few more cumulative years of service than the most recently hired 27 employees. As much as I want to call to everyone’s attention the fact that we have a huge number of new employees, we do have some seasoned veteran coworkers who are the backbone of the organization.
65 – The number of employees who selected $150 gift cards from local businesses this year, helping to recycle some of the Commissioners’ holiday gift card dollars back into the Cambridge business community. What I am still trying to understand is why 45 employees opted for smaller $100 gift cards that were not tied to a local business. I would have thought more would opt for the more generous card that also supported community businesses. This has me wondering how the City can make sure that its investments provide as much benefit locally as possible, and how we can leverage our workforce to benefit the community.
481.2 – The value in millions of dollars of the amount of planned construction projects in the Cambridge community over the next five or so years. If we are not careful and intentional, most of this construction investment will go to employees and companies outside our area and we will not enjoy the full social and economic benefit of this amazing amount of construction. This list of projects is far from all inclusive, so it is fair to say Cambridge has more than half a billion dollars of construction on the books in the 2020’s.
200,000 – Amount of bond bill dollars the City received for a phased approach to the renovation and restoration of the Old City Hall at 309 Gay Street. This funding will be combined with $100,000 from Maryland Historic Trust and $400,000 in local appropriations for a good first phase project in 2024. Special Projects Coordinator Cheryl Hannan was instrumental in both the bond bill and the MHT grant.
1,025,000 – Amount of DHCD Community Legacy grant dollars awarded this month to Cambridge-based projects. The City benefits from a great working relationship with DHCD. Special Projects Coordinator Lynne Widli completed our Sustainable Communities recertification earlier this month, without which we would not be eligible for this funding. This is essential behind-the-scenes work that does not get a lot of attention.
1,063,463 – Amount of dollars the Commissioners of Cambridge have set aside in the City’s General Fund as a “debt reserve” reserve. This is the amount of General Fund debt service the City has in FY 25. The debt reserve policy essentially has the City squirreling away next year’s debt obligation as well as funding the current year debt service payment.
2,444,337 – Amount of dollars the Commissioners of Cambridge have set aside as a “rainy day” reserve. I am pleased with the ways in which Deborah Cooper and I were able to advance our annual budget as a policy document this year. This includes starting to establish some fiscal policies and reserve policies.
3,792,630 – The bid price in dollars for the West End Sewer project that will go forward with in 2024.
Every good year-end list inevitably comes to an end, if for no other reason than time runs out. But all of these metrics some way or another relate to the five goals City Council set in February. If you have any questions about this, please feel free to email me at [email protected].
Tom Carroll is the Cambridge City Manager