Op-ed: Vote No Because ‘Town Meeting Is A Good Filter For Ideas and Projects’

EDITOR’S NOTE: Framingham Source invited 10 community members to write op-eds on the ballot question voters will see during the April 4th Town of Framingham election. Voters will be asked to approve a new form of government for Framingham. A vote yes means Framingham would adopt a city form of government, with a Mayor, an 11-member City Council and a 9-member School Committee. A vote no would keep Framingham as a town.
However, the ballot question is not that simple. Every household with a registered voter was mailed a copy of the ballot question. To help voters understand the issues, five individuals wrote a vote yes op-ed and five wrote a vote no op-ed. The series will publish on Source this week with one yes and one no op-ed for five days.

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As an elected Town Meeting Member representing precinct 3 (1991-2005), and precinct 5 (2005- present), rarely missing a session, I have not only been an active representative of my constituents and the entire town, but also a close observer of the process.

In this forum I would like to address one specific factor that motivates me to oppose THIS charter proposal. I believe that, for all the challenges of elected Town Meeting, there is no other form of government that so represents participatory democracy. Town Meeting allows the opportunity for individuals to persist and get things right, actions that would never have happened if left solely to the powers that be. If we lose Town Meeting as our legislative body – a group of neighbors who will listen to our concerns – we will be speaking only to a small collection of elected officials – people who are also worried about getting re-elected or pleasing their campaign donors.

Our Town Meeting is a good filter for ideas and projects because you have to really sell the benefits to get support from this legislative body. Our elected precinct representatives do not have donors to appease or please.

Please consider these 7 examples of how shining sunlight on issues in public and in front of fellow Town Meeting Members (and Town Meeting’s Standing Committees) to get their votes illustrates my point:

 

  1. Years ago, the Standing Committee on Education proposed converting the heating system of the Barbieri school to gas, instead of closing the school because electric heating was too expensive. They had to attempt this twice to get it passed. Persistence pays. And we were able to keep this school open.

 

  1. The town put a large ugly sewer pumping station in the middle of a precinct 11 resident’s front lawn. The neighbors sought help from town leaders for 4 years, with no response. After multiple presentations by one Town Meeting Member, $138,000 was voted to replace this monstrosity with a below-ground pumping station.

 

  1. The Cedar Swamp property would have gotten no action without one Town Meeting Member’s photos and persistence. He and a few supporters were able to get fellow elected representatives to provide $250,000 to mark property lines and educate the abutters. Next they will build boardwalks and trails to advance this project.

 

  1. Framingham’s skate park was blocked by a number of committees and boards. Town Meeting voted to support the park once they heard a full report by Town Meeting Members and residents, and the project has moved to the design phase. The park got a grant and is progressing toward reality.

 

  1. The Selectmen were discussing ways to get the TDR (Transfer of Development Rights) zoning to be used and to increase interest among potential developers. So they began adding parcels that would qualify for the TDR. There were unanswered questions about the impact of these developments (such as 10-story apartment buildings) on the abutting neighborhoods. Fortunately, after listening to reports from the Standing Committee on Planning and Zoning, and Town Meeting Members in the affected precincts, Town Meeting brought the process to a halt and those additional properties where not added.

 

  1. When the powers that be were thinking of giving the Arthur Morency Woods property away (to Natick), Town Meeting Members brought the issue to public attention, and voted to stop this action. http://www.framinghamma.gov/366/Arthur-Morency-Woods.

 

  1. Over recent years Town Meeting has either affirmed the CFO’s budget recommendation for the schools or voted to give the schools more funding after hearing presentations on the schools’ needs. The vote was not necessarily as much as the schools originally requested, but often more than they would have been given without Town Meeting stepping in. This is a very clear example of what would likely NOT happen under the structure proposed in this charter (in fact, potentially the opposite).

 

Fiscal Year CFO’s Recommendation Town Meeting Vote
FY 2012 $90.6M $91.9M
FY 2013 $96.6M $96.6M
FY 2014 $102.1M $102.1M
FY 2015 $108.2M $109.45M
FY 2016 $114.9M $115.7M
FY 2017 $120.7M $122.55M

 

The specific home rule charter that is found on side 2 of our April 4 ballot “repeals and replaces” Town Meeting by changing to a strong Mayor and small City Council, thereby concentrating control and power in the hands of a very few.

I ask you to join me in voting NO on this version of City government.

#NotTHISCharter

 

Norma Shulman

Town Meeting member, Precinct 5

 

 

Framingham Source Editor Susan Petroni

Susan Petroni Framingham Source Editor Email: editor@FraminghamSource.com Phone: 508-315-7176

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