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Cambridge’s Healy stepping down as city manager in 2013

PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF

Robert Healy rose to city manager of Cambridge in 1981 and will step down in June 2013 at age 70.

The longtime city manager of Cambridge, who has won praise for keeping taxes in check but drawn past criticism for his hefty salary and handling of a discrimination lawsuit, said Tuesday he will retire next year.

The decision by Robert Healy, who rose to city manager in 1981, signals an end to one of the most enduring, and durable, careers in municipal leadership in Massachusetts.

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Healy said he informed city councilors of his desire to retire and was pleased they agreed this week to extend his contract through the end of the next fiscal year. Under the terms of that deal, he will step down in June 2013, at the age of 70.

“I made it clear this was the maximum amount of time I was willing to commit to,’’ he said. “This seemed like the right time to me.’’

Healy has been lauded for his fiscal stewardship of Cambridge, notably his ability to constrain property tax increases. But in recent years, he has come under sustained criticism for his high salary and his handling of a discrimination suit against the city that resulted in a multimillion-dollar judgment.

Cambridge officials could not provide current figures Tuesday for Healy’s salary or his pension. But it stood at $336,317 in 2010, according to a report by the website Cambridge Day and the Initiative for Investigative Reporting at Northeastern University. That made Healy the highest-paid municipal manager in Massachusetts, according to the report, which concluded that his salary was double that of the next highest paid municipal managers. It found Healy was in line to receive more than $250,000 a year.

The Cambridge Chronicle first reported Healy’s retirement Monday, and the news startled some employees in City Hall. Even some city councilors expressed surprise Healy had set a definitive date for his departure.

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Minka vanBeuzekom, a city councilor, said Healy’s early notice of retirement will help the council in its search for his successor.

In a statement, Henrietta Davis, chosen as mayor in recent weeks by the City Council, praised Healy and the pact that keeps him in his job through the middle of next year.

“Bob Healy has done a great job for a long time for the city,’’ Davis said. “This contract is a good way to put a transition in motion.’’

Three councilors voted against the contract extension, citing Healy’s handling of the discrimination suit. In that case, Malvina Monteiro alleged racial discrimination in the workplace and accused city officials, including Healy, of engaging in a systematic campaign to punish her after she filed a 1998 complaint against them with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Monteiro resigned as executive director of the city’s Police Review and Advisory Committee in 2003 after city officials told her of their intention to fire her. Last year, the state Appeals Court affirmed earlier court decisions upholding a 2008 jury verdict awarding Monteiro more than $4.5 million. The case has cost the city more than $8 million.

Healy said he had considered retirement for some time and made his intentions clear.

“It will be 32 years, and I’ll be 70,’’ he said. “It’s time.’’

Geoff Beckwith - executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, an advocacy group for cities and towns - called the length of Healy’s tenure “extraordinary.’’

Robert Winters, a longtime political observer who teaches mathematics at MIT, praised Healy’s tenure, saying he had managed the city’s budget so well councilors’ fiscal responsibilities were limited. “These guys have never had a hard decision to make,’’ Winters said.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com.

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