More oversight for Healy

August 24, 2011

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IN FIGHTING the discrimination case brought by Malvina Monteiro, former director of Cambridge’s Police Review and Advisory Committee, the city has rung up to $8 million in damages, legal fees, and interest that’s been accruing since 2008, when the city launched a series of appeals. So after the Court of Appeals last week affirmed the judgment in Monteiro’s favor, City Manager Robert Healy was certainly right in declaring that “it’s time to move forward.’’

The case has been a debacle for Cambridge. A jury found that Healy, whose extremely generous pay package is supposedly earned through tight, efficient management, was personally involved in a series of reprisals against Monteiro, after she joined with four other women of color in filing a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination petition in 1998. That filing claimed that women of color were denied opportunities in Cambridge. The jury found that Healy and his staff responded by questioning Monteiro’s work and seeking to fire her.

The initial award - $1.6 million in compensatory damages and a whopping $3.5 million in punitive damages - was large enough that Healy could justify making a costly appeal in hopes of getting it reduced. But those hopes proved fruitless when the Court of Appeals rejected all six of the city’s legal challenges.

Still, the city could have gone another step higher, to the Supreme Judicial Court, but the meter would have kept running on legal fees for both sides and interest on the initial award. Healy announced the decision to forgo further appeals after a meeting with the City Council, whose members showed signs of irritation as well as disappointment.

As city manager, Healy has a strong record of keeping taxes low and services delivered in an efficient manner. But after three decades at the helm, he often seems to be running the city with unchecked power, as city councilors seem more intent on winning his favor than overseeing his decision-making.

The Monteiro cases raises questions about that decision-making, and at least some councilors are taking notice. “This is not Cambridge’s finest hour,’’ declared long-serving councilor Kenneth Reeves, before wishing Monteiro well. Healy may or may not be the best person to run Cambridge, but he can only do it better with a little pressure from above.