He’s been honored by hundreds of city employees, Harvard University, and numerous local organizations, but Cambridge’s retiring city manager, Robert W. Healy, insists that he has a quiet City Hall exit in mind.
On his final day of work Sunday, Healy plans to come into the office, collect the last of his things, and walk down the front steps of City Hall alone.
“It’s been a pretty good end,” said Healy, 69, who is leaving after 32 years on the job.
The highest paid municipal manager in the state, Healy has taken heat from taxpayers for his retirement package and his $347,000 salary. But his colleagues in Cambridge say he was worth it, lauding his successes as longtime deputy city manager Richard Rossi takes over the top spot.
As Healy leaves, the biotech industry is booming in the city of about 106,000 people, Cambridge’s finances have earned AAA bond ratings each year since 1999, the city has opened a new police station and public library in recent years, and it has begun the demolition work for a new $86 million school without state assistance.
Mayor Henrietta Davis said a significant part of Healy’s legacy will be his work leading the city to create affordable housing after the end of rent control in the 1990s. Davis said Healy has frequently stepped in to provide resources for human services and schools, even when his initial reaction as a fiscal steward may be to say no.
“He doesn’t like to look like he’s got a lot of heart,” Davis said. “But the needs of the citizenry have been met very well.”
But controversies still circle his tenure, starting with the salary, which is almost twice that of Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston.
Healy has also drawn fire because of multiple workplace discrimination lawsuits that began in the 1990s and have cost the city more than $10 million in damages, attorney fees, settlements, and interest.
The city settled one of the suits with two women in 2011. The same year, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals affirmed earlier court decisions that upheld a 2008 jury verdict awarding former city employee Malvina Monteiro more than $4.5 million. Monteiro alleged that Healy and other officials engaged in a systematic campaign to punish her after she filed a discrimination complaint against them in 1998.
Healy said the city was never found guilty of discrimination, but it lost its fight against claims that city officials retaliated against Monteiro.
“I will go to my grave knowing I did not retaliate against Malvina Monteiro,” Healy said.
Ellen Zucker, the attorney who represented Monteiro, said that after one jury could not reach a verdict on the discrimination and retaliation complaints Monteiro first brought against the city, her client decided to bring just the retaliation allegations back to court and then won.
Zucker said that in light of the Monteiro case, Healy’s legacy cannot be understood in glowing terms.
“Mr. Healy’s departure is long overdue,” Zucker said. “It is my fervent hope that his departure will allow the city to examine carefully its employment practices and its commitment to ensure that employees who raise concerns about discrimination are not shut out, shut down, and cast aside.”
While Healy said his salary may be the highest among city managers in Massachusetts, he said there are no other city managers who have a more difficult city to run than Cambridge, with its operating budget of more than $500 million and a capital budget of $200 million. While he is the chief executive officer, Healy also reports to the policy-making City Council in public meetings.
“The number looks large to the average person,” Healy said of his salary. “To someone who has dedicated his life and continues to do it day in, day out to make this a successful city, the taxpayers have gotten their money’s worth.”
Healy said the city’s residential tax rate, $8.66 per $1,000 of assessed value, is one of the lowest of all Massachusetts cities. He also pointed to the findings of the City of Cambridge Citizen Survey, which has showed high rates of satisfaction with city services in recent years. According to the 2012 survey, 75 percent of those who participated rated the performance of city government as good or excellent.
Robert Winters, who runs the Cambridge Civic Journal website and teaches math at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he would be happy if all of the salary levels in the city were a little lower, but at the same time he has to consider that some exceptions may be acceptable when a person’s tenure has been exceptionally long.
Winters said Healy has done enough politically to survive 32 years and the ever-changing dynamics of the City Council, including an effort in the mid-1990s to oust Healy that failed when the manager’s opponents couldn’t muster enough votes.
Winters said Healy has helped transform Cambridge, which was a manufacturing city past its prime when he came to office. The city focused efforts on improvements to University Park and Kendall Square, and is now in a strong financial position, Winters said.
“I think he’s been great for the city,” Winters said.
After he retires, Healy, who lives in Lowell with his wife, plans to serve as a Taubman Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, teaching about local government. Looking ahead, he said Cambridge should do more work to create housing for those with moderate incomes; continue on the city’s innovation agenda, which has established new upper schools for students in the sixth through eighth grades; and work with state and private partnerships to meet the demand for transit in Kendall Square.
“It’s clear that the MBTA Red Line will feel the effect of the growth in Kendall Square,” he said.
Leaning back in his office chair and reflecting on his tenure during a June 21 interview, Healy pointed to a couple of cardboard boxes on his desk that he had packed full of belongings, including plaques and trophies that local groups have given him on what he calls his “farewell tour.” He had many more boxes to go.
“Next week, I really hope to finish packing,” he said.
Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe.@gmail.com.