Framingham combines professional administration with voluntary community input that results in coalitions and consensus on critical issues. The belief that government policy should deliberatively meet the objectives of taxpayers is a fundamental principle of our town.
In these complex times, professional management is essential. There is much evidence that ours is strong and effective. Our Town Manager has reorganized the administration of services into efficient teams and with the Chief Financial Officer significantly modified practices that improve the fiscal stability of the Town. Critical to our excellent bond rating that helps with favorable bond rates for capital projects is the fact that Town Meeting has authorized the creation of reserves for future liabilities as recommended by the Town Manager and CFO. The building permitting process has been streamlined, cutting the review process to 90 days. Financial materials are on-line and exhaustive reports on every aspect of taxpayer support are readily available. Comprehensive long range budget and capital plans are on file for all departments as are all aspects of property valuation. Recent evidence of significant water/sewer infrastructure upgrades, the Children’s Grove at Cushing Park, updates for Loring Arena, studies of Mary Dennison Park to shape redesign, Skate Park design, downtown renewal, and amended planning and zoning are but a few of the dynamic activities of our professional staff with support of volunteers and Town Meeting.
Independent Financial Oversight
Financial oversight has been a strength for the Town in recent years. The State requires Towns to have independent fiscal oversight by an appointed Finance Committee. The broad authority includes audit, operating and capital budgets, control of emergency funds, access to records and review of departments. There is no equivalent to the Finance Committee in the proposed Charter. It does create a Strategic Initiatives and Financial Oversight Committee, but at this time it has no meaningful authority, and no action is required on its recommendations.
The Town has very high benchmarks for fiscal discipline. General standards are set by the State and significantly augmented by the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Every dime is accounted for in up- to- date fiscal systems but neither the current or proposed structure can control the school budget. State law still conveys broad independent authority to school superintendents and school committees, so bringing the Framingham Public School budget into line with available Town revenue will continue to be negotiated. The politics of education funding have always been challenging and there has been little or no correlation between funding and performance. The good news is that school and town have reached agreement on a growth factor for FY 18 for consideration of Town Meeting. Moreover, human resource systems have been combined into one system in the Memorial Building.
Planning and Development Oversight
Our current elected Planning Board represents the citizens of Framingham on planning and development issues. In the proposed Charter, the Mayor appoints the Planning Board and can participate in Planning Board meetings and hearings. There is much concern that permitting decisions will be subject to undo political pressure and large donations. I believe that now more than ever we need an independent, elected Planning Board to represent our neighborhoods.
The current Town structure has some weaknesses that can be corrected while still preserving the basic Town strengths. Town Meeting already cut its size and it could go further without diminishing community input. It could abolish Standing Committees that duplicate the role of town boards; it could be better managed to facilitate pro and con discussion with no repetitions, to name a few. Other large towns have found ways to streamline Town Meeting deliberations so they are thorough, yet concise, and others convene monthly to improve both participation and responsiveness to the community. There are numerous alternatives, and we can adopt effective practices from other communities.
Town Meeting generally makes good decisions that reflect the core values of our community. Votes are recorded. Framingham is an old, historic New England town that as a community values education, libraries, parks and recreation, the arts and culture.
We want safe neighborhoods and responsive fire and emergency services. We want our streets plowed and in good repair, our garbage picked up in a cost-efficient way, and reliable water and sewer service. Town Meeting generally votes budgets in alignment with these priorities.
I have had the privilege to serve as an elected Town Meeting Member for 34 years followed by 10 years on the appointed Finance Committee, two of which were spent also on the Capital Budget Committee. To date I still have concerns about how this particular city charter will impact our community. I respectfully request you to vote NO on this particular Charter proposal. We can do better!