Let’s Break Some Rules

January 1st, 2014

Cambridge City HallLet’s Break Some New Rules in 2014


Hello friends, old and new!  It’s time for New Year resolutions and I’d like to suggest a few for the incoming Cambridge City Council.  This may sound strange coming from the guy who pleaded with them not to violate the Open Meeting Law last term (they carried on and violated it anyway), but I’d like for them to resolve to break some different rules this term.


1) Let the School Committee elect it’s chair.  This would appear to be a direct violation of State Law (MGL C43 s31), which states that the Mayor should be the chair of the School Committee.  But a Mayor can be the formal chair and permit another member of the body to be acting chair.


It’s only right that an elected body be allowed to decide who among them will run the meetings.  Even a newly elected school committee member knows more about school issues than a city councillor.  It will take a special Mayor (see Resolution #2) to make this happen.


2) Discuss who should be Mayor.  It seems there is a unwritten rule that there shall be no public discussion of the qualifications and election of the Mayor.  There is, of course, plenty of discussion that occurs, just not in public.


I’d personally like to hear what the Mayoral candidates think the Mayor does.  I’d like them to describe what they think the duties of the City Manager, the City Council, and the School Committee are.  I’d like to know if they know Robert’s Rules of Order,  if they are willing to let the school committee decide who should preside over its meetings,  and if they can suggest changes in the old City Council rules to help encourage open debate and public participation (see Resolution #3).


3) Break these City Council rules by eliminating or changing them:


General: Eliminate sexist pronouns (all over the 2012-13 Rules of the Council).  It’s 2014, people!


Rule 17. Special Events Presentations.  Commencing at 5:00 p.m before any regular meetings there may be a SPECIAL EVENTS PRESENTATION. At this time special events will be presented and will be broadcast on cable television. Special Events Presentations will b e scheduled through the Mayor’s Office. The Special Events Presentations will conclude at 5:30 p.m. No quorum of the City Council is required.  Do we really need a “rule” for this?



Rule 21. The City Clerk shall prepare the minutes of the previous regular and/or special meetings and a calendar of all matters to come before the City Council at each
meeting in accordance with the established order of business and shall deliver to the residence of each Councillor a copy of the same not later than twenty-four hours prior to said meeting. On all matters on which there has been a roll-call vote, the minutes shall reflect the votes of the individual members. 
Simplify, modernize, and change to:  “The City Clerk shall prepare the minutes of the previous meeting and the Order of Business for the next meeting and shall make both available on the City website not later than 24 prior to said next meeting.”


RULE 23 B. Six to eight meetings per year shall be roundtable/working meetings. The date for a particular roundtable shall be set by majority vote at a prior regular business meeting or as a special meeting. At a roundtable meeting, no votes shall be taken except upon a motion to adjourn. The meeting shall not be broadcast on cable television. The Mayor shall determine the agenda for the roundtable meeting in consultation with the City Manager and other members of the City Council.  Eliminate the striked out sentence.  There is no rule that says a Council meeting must be broadcast, why have a rule which states that one must not be broadcast?


RULE 23C. Public Comment.

Simplify, and bring into compliance with State Law by eliminating the striked  sections.  Improve by adding underlined sections.


Regular business Any meetings.

a. Under the provisions of Chapter 43, Section 98 of the General Laws, Tercentenary Edition, citizens and employees of the city shall have reasonable opportunity to be heard at any meeting of the City Council in regard to any matter considered thereat. 

The Chair shall allow reasonable comment prior to the matter considered and in no case may limit the public’s or employee’s opportunity to be heard to less than three minutes.


Opportunities for citizens and employees to be heard at all regular meetings, except for working/roundtable meetings, shall be provided directly after the reading of the record, if requested by the City Council (submission of the record of the previous meeting). Members of the public may comment upon items in the following categories of business: Motions for reconsideration, City Manager’s consent agenda, Unfinished business from preceding meetings, Applications and petitions requiring approval or referral by the City Council, Consent resolutions. Consent resolutions and orders relating to policy analysis or development, Committee reports and Communications and reports from other city officers. Each speaker shall limit his or her comments to no more than three minutes.


b. Procedure: An individual may sign up to speak before the City Council via telephone, email, or text message to the City Council office on Mondays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., or in person from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. via a sign up sheet available in the Sullivan Chamber. To assist the Chair, the individual must may indicate on the sign up sheet which item(s) he or she is planning to address.


2. Regular roundtable/working meetings.
Public comment shall not take place at working/roundtable meetings of the City Council, where no matter being discussed may be finally considered, in that no votes may be taken. Written comments will be accepted and made part of the record of the meeting. The opportunity for the public to make oral comments on items discussed at working/roundtable meetings shall be at the regular meeting at which the item may be considered for action by the City council. 


Rule 23E. The City Clerk shall include the written statement of the mission and goals or priorities of the City Council and the City Manager with the materials prepared for the agenda of the City Council for its weekly meeting.  This doesn’t rise to “Council rule” status, but is a good rule to live by.  It goes without saying that both the Council and the City Manager should explain to the public and each other why a particular motion is important to the City.


Rule 24.  The seats of the members of the City Council shall be determined by the City Clerk in consultation with the members; no member shall change his seat but by permission of the Chair.  How did this silly rule even end up in the Council rules?  It appears in the past the Council couldn’t even figure out where to sit without asking for help from the Staff.


Rule 30. No person will be admitted within the rail in the Sullivan Chamber or in Members’ Lobby connected with said chamber at any meeting of the City Council except upon permission of the Mayor.  The symbolism of royal rulers who need gates and hidden chambers to protect them from the rabble is inappropriate for the People’s chamber.  This should have been eliminated centuries ago.  Councillors, tear down this wall (metaphorically speaking).


Rule 31B. Hearings

Eliminate the striked  sections, add the underlined sections.  Give subsections outline letters consistent with other rules.


Public hearings shall provide the public reasonable time for participation and breaks.


a) Hearings shall be recessed for no less than 15 minutes every two hours.  The time devoted to public hearings shall not be more than two (2) hours at any one sitting. Any hearing not completed within the specified time may be continued to another meeting.


b) Any individual appearing before the City Council at a public hearing and claiming to represent another as agent or otherwise in the matter of being heard shall file with the City Council a written authorization signed by the individual, organization or corporation whose interests such individual represents.


c) There shall be a five (5) minute time limit for each speaker to express her or his views on the matter being heard by the City Council, except as noted below. Speakers will be required to address themselves solely to the issue, which is before the City Council for discussion and shall not engage in personal or rude remarks.  It’s a pity this has to be said, but so be it.


d) In all hearings before the City Council, the case of the petitioner shall be submitted first for 15 minutes, except in matters affecting acceptance of highways or taking by right of eminent domain.  After the initial speaker, opponents then supporters shall be given the change to speak until all those desiring to speak have been heard.  


e) After all speakers have been heard at least once, the Chair shall permit individuals to speak again, alternating between opponents and supporters as before.  Speakers shall continue to address themselves solely to the issue and will be required to avoid repeating prior statements.

Happy New Rules, everyone!


School Budget Hearing

May 13th, 2013

The “rejection” of the FY2013-2014 School Budget by the Budget Subcommittee of the City Council is all over the news.  I’ve sent this letter to the Cambridge Civil Journal Forum, Cambridge Day, and the Cambridge Chronicle :

Last Thursday, I left the City Council’s School Budget Hearing confident that the School Department’s Budget request would move along to the final vote in a few weeks.  It did not.  I was surprised, but did not think it was a “blindside” or a result of “personality conflicts” or “lack of leadership”,”irresponsible”, “obstructionist”, “ignorant”, “insulting”, or “disrespectful”.  One characterization I do agree with is that it was “political”.  And in the best sense of the word, that is exactly as it should be.

The dollar spent on a couple of minute’s worth of teaching takes a complicated path from taxpayer to child.  The Budget Hearing is an essential part of that pathway and assures that public debate, when needed, occurs.

The fact that public debate rarely occurs is no excuse to avoid it when it happens.  And if you’re having the debate, make your questions clear, and your answers helpful.

I have been involved with the Cambridge Public Schools since I moved back to the City over 13 years ago.  We have always spent a considerable amount more per pupil than the majority of other cities and towns.  It’s fair to ask for goals, how the money is being spent and measurable results.

I understand the frustration when questions been asked and answered before, but you need to take a sabbatical if you’re tired of giving the answers.  Any teacher will tell you that.

Shelter in Place

April 21st, 2013










At 6:20pm on Bad Friday, authorities announced that their “stay indoors” request had been lifted and over one million people were free to go about their lives.

Earlier in the day, the same officials had decided that the entire metropolitan Boston area was in imminent danger.  An armed fugitive was on the loose and it was best to shut everything down and “shelter in place”.  And now, 12 hours later, though nothing had changed, they said the imminent danger was past.

One million people, who had been asked by their government to give up their freedom for a day, now streamed outside to look up at the warm overcast sky, breath in the fresh air, and be together again.  Really together, not home alone.

I am the sort of person who will wait for the “Walk” signal at a deserted intersection.  “Shelter in place” is easy for me, I work at home.  But I could not stay indoors on Friday when asked.  I made it a point on work breaks and the distraction of the news storm to walk around my neighborhood and carry on.  I wish officials had asked everyone to do the same.

This week began in celebration of a day when patriots, stunned and bloodied, ran towards danger.  It happened again Monday when heroes, stunned and bloodied, ran towards danger.  It happened on Friday when police, stunned and bloodied, did the same.  That is something which has not changed in 238 years.

What did change, for 12 hours on Bad Friday, was our freedom.  We were asked, stunned and bloodied, to give it up and stay home.  I wish we had never been asked.

I hope the most profound lesson of a most profound week is that, while “shelter in place” may work well for hurricanes, blizzards, and other disasters, it should not be used again as it was on Friday.  Instead, we should embrace our freedom, especially in the face of terrorism.

At 6:21pm, a good citizen (and a million others) stepped outside to look up at the warm overcast sky and breath in the fresh air of freedom.  He noticed the tarp on his boat was flapping in the breeze.  He looked inside and carried on.


Election Commissioner

January 31st, 2012


I’m running for the nomination to be a Democratic Party Election Commissioner for the City of Cambridge.  The Election will be at the Tuesday February 28, 2012 meeting of the Cambridge Democratic City Committee, 7PM at the Cambridge Citywide Senior Center (806 Massachusetts Avenue).

The Candidates will be having a debate on the night of Wednesday February 8, 2012, 7PM at the YMCA (820 Massachusetts Avenue).

I have posted my answers to the Election Commissioner Questionnaire (Click Here), just look the the Pages listing on the right.

One Thing

November 13th, 2011

1. Congratulations to those who ran and won: Leland, Tim, David, Henrietta, Denise, Craig, Marjorie, Minka, and Ken. And special thanks to those who ran and gave the voters a choice: Sam, Larry, Matt, Charlie, James, Gary, Jamake, and Greg. I hope we’ll all do it again in 2013.

Photos from the Poll Walk (click photo)

Three Things

November 7th, 2011


Morning Sign Holding in Central Square

1. Tomorrow is Election Day. Give someone a #1.

2. Tomorrow will be unusually clear and sunny. Get outside and enjoy it.

3. See #1 and #2 and join me on on the Poll Walk.

Sunset on Day Before Election

A Free Press

November 6th, 2011

At almost every City Council meeting, the City has at least two reporters sitting at a large table in the same corral that the City Council sits.  Most observers of Council meetings would admit, in the recent past, that this has not always been the case.  I am happy we have a renewed interest in reporting the local news, I hope it continues.

And I am proud to have the endorsement of both Cambridge Day and the Cambridge Chronicle.

Green Forum Q&A

November 3rd, 2011

I prepared the following answers for the Green Cambridge Forum:

Climate and Energy a) What, if any, additional funding and additional staffing resources do you support within the city government towards climate protection efforts?

I would support a redistribution of existing funding and resources into City Departments which directly effect environmental protection (I’m not sure what “climate protection” means): Zoning (Community Development Department), Code Enforcement (Inspectional Services), City Infrastructure (Public Works/Traffic and Parking)


Climate and Energy b) How will you support the work of the CCEAG (Cambridge Climate Emergency Action Group) and other Environmental Groups in Cambridge to combat Climate Change?

Any citizen group, whatever the topic, should feel their concerns have been heard and addressed.  This means timely response, active engagement, and followup.  Specifically, I would want to see how the City can take the work of the CCEAG and other groups and implement them within City Government.

Setting a good example is one of the most powerful tools Government has, it should always be willing to take the same actions it asks the public to take.


Climate and Energy c) The City government is already taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint. What additional measures should the City take in the next two years and what will you do on the City Council to advance them?

I would like to work on new ways to encourage City employees to commute without cars.  I also like to have the City evaluate actual energy savings for the City’s Green Buildings and improve future Green Building efforts based on the evaluation.


Climate and Energy d) What will you do to increase energy efficiency efforts and renewable energy installations by businesses in the city?

MIT and Harvard should consider the City, its businesses (and residences) a resource for testing state-of-the-art energy monitoring and usage methods.  The Stretch Code needs to be more sophisticated and inclusive of more buildings.  The Zoning Code needs to be modernized to reflect changing needs for small-scale, wide-spread wind and solar collectors.


Conservation a) Do you support the preservation of the Silver Maple Forest, and if so, what will you do as city councilor to make it happen?

Much of the Silver Maple Forest is in the Town of Belmont.  The City of Cambridge has purchased lots of land outside of Cambridge to preserve and protect its water supply. If the price is fair, it is reasonable to do the same to protect its lone remaining urban wilderness.  It would be even better to cooperate with Belmont to achieve the preservation together.


Food supply a) Do you support re-localizing our food supply, including more support for city gardeners and animal husbandry in the city of Cambridge?  What specific proposals do you have for securing our food supply and creating a healthier, more sustainable food environment in Cambridge?

I would work to increase the number of CSA-friendly farmer’s markets and stands in areas with good access to public transportation. Another candidate, Matt Nelson, pointed out that food-stamp recipients can use their stamps to purchase goods at farmer’s markets.  Easy access to such markets would further promote this.


Food supply b) Do you support an all organic, locally sourced menu for all City sponsored events where food is served in the near future?

Yes, it is important for the City to set a good example.


Buildings and Land Use a) Do you support a comprehensive review of current regulations and proposed building regulations to enable greater sustainability?

Yes, the Zoning Code does need a general and comprehensive review based on issues of environmental protection and sustainability.  Most zoning changes are proposed by property owners and specific neighborhoods and tends to be piecemeal and rarely looks at these important general issues.


Buildings and Land Use b) Several studies have identified urban density as a necessary ingredient in creating more sustainable communities.  Do you agree that Cambridge’s density creates a sustainability advantage for the metropolitan region, and if so what are your ideas for exploiting it?

Cambridge has the second densest number of residents (and dwellings) per square mile in the State.  There is little question that this density is the best model for sustainability.  It only works if long, auto-based trips for goods and services are discouraged.  We need to improve public transit.  And as we increase local office space, we need to make sure we increase dwelling space too.


Watershed Protection a) What specific measures do you propose that the City of Cambridge take to help improve the water quality within the Mystic River and its tributaries?

Reduce runoff and impact of road salt, eliminate sewer overflow, and active remediation (water treatment) are all tools which have been used to improve local rivers.  These water systems touch many communities and all communities should pay their fair share of the costs.


Closing Summary

Preserving the environment takes action on many levels. Personally, I am trying to lose a car and install some photovoltaics within a year.

At a local level, I plan to govern by walking (not driving) around, even when its not the Campaign season. I will work to have Cambridge be Harvard and MIT’s lab for state-of-the-art environmental methods. I will work to modernize out City streets and sidewalks in recognition of the change from a car-based to a walking/biking based population.  I will make sure the new zoning proposed for Kendal Square has the right mix of office, retail, and residential uses.

Statewide, we need a smarter and more sophisticated Stretch Code, and need the Green Line Extension now.

And for a worldwide impact , I will vote for candidates who support responsible environmental policies.


The Zombie Vote

October 31st, 2011

Happy Halloween!

The Value of Athletics

October 11th, 2011

For new Stohlman Blog visitors: I highly recommend the links to the right for important information. You should also watch my Cambridge Community TV appearance: CCTV 5 Minutes of Fame .

Friday Night Respect

I did not participate in high school sports.  My school literally had no grass or playing fields within walking distance. I got most of my exercise hiking a 1/2 mile up and down the 20 story tall hill between my house and the bus stop. I was missing an opportunity to learn something important.

I’ve been attending some Cambridge Rindge and Latin school athletic events and learning the value of respecting your opponents, something I’ve tried to apply while campaigning.  It’s an important component to healthy competition in any arena.

Once Upon A Forum

October 4th, 2011

For new Stohlman Blog visitors, I highly recommend the links to the right for important information. You should also watch my Cambridge Community TV appearance: CCTV 5 Minutes of Fame .

Now on with the Blog:


Tom at Ward 6 Forum


The Ward 6 Democrat’s had the 1st forum of the Campaign season near the end of the summer season.  Here are my responses to their questions:

1.  In recent months, the performance, compensation and tenure of our current City Manager have increasingly become the subject of media attention. If you are successful in election (or re-election) to the Cambridge City Council, what would be your position on any potential extension of the Manager’s current contract?

I do not like the clause in the current contract which has an automatic extension provision. (“In the event written notice is not given, by either party to this agreement to the other six months prior to the termination date as hereinabove provided, this agreement shall extend on the terms and conditions as herein provided for a period of one year.”) It is better for both parties to review the contract when it reaches the termination date, not kick the can down the road.  I do not support an automatic extension for any City Manager’s contract.

“The Cambridge Chronicle was more direct when it asked Council candidates:”Do you think it’s time for a new City manager?” I answered  “Yes.  And I went on to say any organization, from a City government to a family-owned corner store should be ready for change, the ability to handle change is a strong indicator that the organization is healthy and functioning well.

Let’s get to it, and hope we can do as good a job as the Cambridge City Council did in 1981.”


2.   The current issue of the Cambridge Chronicle carries a thought-provoking photo essay on “What would the $3.2 milllion interest accrued during the recent appeal of the originalMonteiro decision buy?”  As a member of the Cambridge City Council, how would you best allocate $3.2 million if it were suddenly made available to the City’s budget?

It would certainly be an interesting exercise to give each City Councillor $3.2 Million to allocate any way they wish, but I think it is best to have 9 good people decide rather than one.  But I’ll bite:

I would allocate the money towards the Cambridge Public Library.  I don’t think there is a better way to benefit every resident than to give them the gift of information.


3.       Without going into the deeper, and more controversial, issue of whether our now almost 65 year old “Plan E” form of government and “PR” elections should be changed outright, would you favour the establishment of an independent citizen commission to examine and report on potential revisions within our Plan E charter?  Specifically, could you support a Council model that includes at-large councillors elected by our traditional proportional representation method together with district councillors elected by instant runoff voting (IRV)?  Are there other revisions that you would recommend at this time?

Wow, the question is pretty deep already.  Yes to a commission. No to a change away from 100% at large.  In my opinion, so-called “district seats” place too much focus on geography.  I think most voters are more complex than that. However, if a group of voters think that this is important, there is nothing stopping them from making it happen within the current system.


4.       In a sound-bite driven world, we often look for the short, snappy response.  If you had to reduce your campaign message to a single bumper sticker, what would it say, and why?

Will Rogers was asked about the nature of his humorous remarks about politicians. “I have often said in answer to inquiries as to how I got away with kidding some of our public men, that it was because I liked all of them personally, and that if there was no malice in your heart there could be none in your gags, and I have always said I never met a man I didn’t like.”

“A fool and his money are soon elected”

“I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

“Politics is applesauce.”

My motto: “Politics is not a dirty word.”


5.      If elected, would you be engaging in any other full-time or substantial part-time employment or other professional activity during the 2010-2010 council term?


6.      If elected to the 2010-2012 City Council, will you be or consider being a candidate for any other elective office during that council term?



Cambridge Candidates TV

September 28th, 2011

Every election year Cambridge Community Television films and airs a 5 minute short on behalf of every candidate.  These 5 minute snips (29  in all) represent well over 40 hours of work for CCTV staff.  Thanks for doing this for the citizens of Cambridge, CCTV!

Here’s my 5 minutes of fame, where I spend 4 minutes talking about my fellow candidates:

Tom’s 2011 CCTV Speech