Many Framingham residents were optimistic when the Charter Commission was formed in the spring of 2016 that it would produce a city form of government that embraced Framingham’s tradition of participatory government. It did not.
We were under no delusions that a city would be proposed given the majority of those elected. What we didn’t anticipate was a process hell-bent on scrapping what has guided Framingham to achieve remarkable things over 317 years. In the shortest period of time allowable, it proposed a government that concentrated too much power in the hands of a mayor and the fewest elected members of a legislative body imaginable.
We were encouraged because many members of the Commission had worked to attract employers, visitors, educators, and sustainable development to our community. They led the Choose Framingham campaign, tax-incentive financing packages approved by Town Meeting, and dealt with deadbeat absentee landlords. They led positive efforts to promote pride in Framingham.
Disappointment set in with strident claims about how everything was broken and intentionally false accusations that the town form of government is responsible for all municipal problems. Suddenly, marketing to residents to learn more about the proposed charter became negative, dark, and dystopian. It was as if Framingham is equivalent to cities like Flint, Michigan or Youngstown, Ohio that never recovered from losing core industry.
Discouragement grew with the emergence of a strong mayor who appoints more than 160 members of boards, commissions and committees with a veto power that requires eight of eleven city councilors to overturn any decision.
It’s important to comprehend the power of a mayor’s veto. As an example, let’s consider the Planning Board that is currently elected and accountable to the voters. If a mayor appoints an unqualified or disreputable person to the Planning Board, the 11-member City Council can reject that person with a majority 6-5 vote. The mayor can veto that decision by the City Council. To protect the integrity of the Planning Board, the City Council must now convince 8 of 11 city councilors to oppose a mayor. Four city councilors are all that is needed to uphold any decision by a mayor.
One mayor and four city councilors dominate under this proposed charter. Five people.
This is a dangerous concentration of power. It invites special interests with money to fund political campaigns to favor those who do their bidding. It is a breeding ground for putting the interests of the wealthy before the needs of the residents, students, and neighborhoods in Framingham.
Who will get appointed to the 30 commissions, committees and boards? Who will truly have access to a mayor under the proposed charter?
The drastic reduction in the legislative branch is a real concern. Today, Framingham has an elected Town Meeting of 216 residents consisting of 12 elected representatives from 18 distinct precincts. Town Meeting voted courageously to reduce its number to 162 over three years, so that 9 leaders will represent each precinct in 2019.
The proposed city charter slashes that to just one representative for every two precincts. That’s a reduction from 162 to 9 locally elected representatives, too radical a departure from Framingham’s participatory democracy.
Their terms were also reduced from three years for elected Town Meeting member to two years, except for two at-large councilors who will serve four-year terms on the same schedule as a mayor. By design, a mayor and at-large councilors’ political fortunes are entwined to deliver for their campaign supporters.
This 11-member City Council invites outside influence when just 6 elected representatives are needed to enact ordinances and budgets. Six is quickly reduced to 4 elected representatives whenever a mayoral veto looms over any decision.
The proposed charter is disappointing in so many ways. It was unnecessary to make such a radical shift in our community that does so many things so well.
Framingham is a great town in which to live, learn, work, and play. It is not in need of a municipal tear down. Town Meeting embraces reform. It hears and has responded to the concerns of Framingham voters. The town’s professional management and volunteer leaders are committed to improving what has worked for 317 years.
Please vote “No” on the proposed charter on April 4th.
Bradley C. Bauler
Framingham Town Meeting member