Grossly overpaid

3/9/2011, 4:20 a.m.
“I don’t think we are getting our money’s worth.”

Grossly overpaid

Gov. Deval Patrick is in the process of reviewing the salaries of the heads of the many special state agencies to determine whether they are excessive. However, the scope of his inquiry does not include municipal employees.

Robert Healy is undoubtedly one of the highest paid public servants in the state. As the Cambridge city manager he is paid a salary of $336,317 per year, and that does not include special perks or employee benefits.

Compare this with other very demanding civil positions. Tom Menino, the mayor of Boston, the state’s capitol and its largest city, receives a salary of only $169,750. Deval Patrick, governor of the Commonwealth, is paid a paltry $139,833. Healy is certainly at the top of that financial pecking order.

Since residents of Cambridge are paying a premium price for the administration of their city, it would seem that they have a right to expect equivalent performance. However, black Cantabrigians have been aggravated over the years by hostility with the local police.

These issues have been quietly swept under the rug in the past because the black victim lacked the social prominence to attract the attention of the media. That approach worked until Police Sgt. James Crowley made the tactical error of arresting the internationally prominent Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Enough time has passed since those events in July 2009, to determine whether Healy really places great importance on racial accord in Cambridge. Like any astute administrator, Healy pushed for a committee to study the Gates issue and propose recommendations. This would get Healy off the hot seat and assure an innocuous resolution.

The biggest obstacle confronting the newly formed Cambridge Review Committee was to rationalize Crowley’s arrest of Gates. Despite the fact that Gates had identified himself and had made no threats; Crowley insisted that he “had no choice” but to arrest him.

Nonetheless, the Committee entitled its report on June 15, 2010 “Missed Opportunities — Shared Responsibilities.” The assumption seems to be that Gates was not quite obsequious enough. An earlier incident had established that courtesy provides no salvation. In December 2006, Professor S. Allen Counter, head of the Harvard Foundation and a 20-year member of the Harvard faculty, was unceremoniously arrested at night from his home on ephemeral charges that could not survive the light of day.

Of course it makes sense for citizens to cooperate with the police during an encounter, provided that there is a fair and effective mechanism to resolve citizen’s complaints about the police being abusive. Cambridge has established the Police Review and Advisory Board for just that purpose. However, that agency played absolutely no role in resolving the Gates - Crowley conflict.

The Police Review and Advisory Board had been inoperative because of a conflict between the city and discrimination charges brought by five women. The case of one of the plaintiffs, Malvina Monteiro, was adjudicated and she won a substantial verdict in May 2008. She was awarded $3.5 million in punitive damages, $962,400 for back pay and $100,000 for emotional distress. Healy has thus far refused to pay the judgment, reportedly because he believes it is excessive.

In private industry, one of the major reasons for curtailing discrimination charges is fear of financial penalties. A slap on the wrist does not provide enough incentive. Healy’s attitude seems to be that aggrieved citizens cannot expect indemnification from Cambridge. This approach gives police almost unlimited license and provides little worthwhile recourse for the citizens.

Minority citizens of Cambridge should expect a much better administrative remedy from a city manager at the top of the pay scale.