Farris Talk

Should residents form a Shadow Cabinet?

Lee Farris

“The Shadow Cabinet is a feature of the parliamentary system of government. It comprises a group of opposition spokespeople who form an alternative cabinet to that of the government, and whose members shadow or mark each individual member of the Cabinet. It is the Shadow Cabinet's responsibility to criticize the policies and actions of the government, as well as offering an alternative program.” [adapted from Wikipedia]  Shadow cabinets are a traditional way that opposition and minority parties to participate in government in many European countries.

Q and A

1. What might a Shadow Cabinet do?

    A Shadow Cabinet would follow statements, proposals, votes, and reports on key development issues from the city manager, city staff, city-appointed boards, and city councilors.  Groups of cabinet participants would be responsible for gathering what is said and commenting on it.  This would help the Cambridge Residents Alliance to formulate its own alternative proposals and evaluate which policy-makers are more aligned with our goals.

2. How is this different from what the Cambridge Residents Alliance is already doing?

     Currently CResA has a few people watching city policy-makers closely and crafting responses and alternative policies.  We are only able to respond to the most important proposals.  We are sometimes late in responding.  We are not keeping an organized storehouse of information.  We do not keep a list of how councilors voted on key issues. We do not respond to many statements, so policy-makers and other residents don’t hear our viewpoint.

3. How many people and what positions would be needed?

     We would need 2-4 people each for the city manager, key city staff, city-appointed boards like the Planning Board and BZA, and the nine city councilors, for example by watching Council meetings on TV, reading news coverage, and reading notes from council meetings.  Someone would need to coordinate efforts.  Something like 16 people would be needed if we had a two person team for each. 

4. How much time would it take?

    It depends on which policy-maker you are following.  Following the City Council would mean watching the Council meeting online, which might mean 2 + hours a week, which could be alternated with other people following the councilor.

5. Why is this a good use of our time?

     You could go to fewer meetings, knowing that other people are covering the other meetings!  More people would be more informed about key issues.  We would be more timely and effective.  It would inform our decision on who to endorse in the next election cycle.  The idea can be scaled down to focus on any subset of policy-makers that we think are the most important.

6. What are some issues?

The name is unfamiliar and confusing to some people; maybe look for a different name?

It’s a lot of work, and would need good coordination.

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