Having been a resident of Framingham for almost 12 years, I’ve now had time to absorb all of the good, the bad, and the ugly that comes with having such a large town be run with a Town Meeting form of government.
I stand in favor of the Charter Commission’s proposal to have Framingham’s form of government be changed into a city structure.
There are several reasons why I feel that Framingham and its citizens would be better served while under a city government structure.
First off, Town Meeting is supposed to give the public equal representation per its 18 districts. As most citizens are aware, Framingham is a very diverse community, both racially and socioeconomically, and the needs of the citizens vary from precinct to precinct. While the idea of Town Meeting is equal representation, the reality is far from the truth. Each district is afforded 12 seats for representatives, but some districts have as few as 4 seats filled. That means, assuming 100 percent attendance at Town Meeting, some districts get no more than 1/3 the voting power of other districts. However, in reality, I’ve noticed a direct correlation between attendance levels and seat vacancies at Town Meeting. As a result, in many cases, some of these districts are getting 1/4 to 1/5 the voting power of others. Equality is far from what Town Meeting is providing for the precincts of Framingham. By having the town run by a Mayor and an 11 member elect Council, this form of government is truly adopting an “equal representation” model. The 9 district councilors ensure that each district receives the same representative power as the others.
Secondly, the current Town Meeting format offers very little room for flexibility in regards to the items on which it votes. When items are presented to Town Meeting, they are typically approved, rejected or referred back. While there is the option to amend articles, that does not realistically offer the governing body adequate time to review the amendment and weigh the potential impacts on the original article. This process does not promote collaboration and compromise. In any working group outside of Town Meeting, members meet to discuss an issue or proposal, collaborate to modify the proposal, and compromise if necessary to reach a satisfactory end result. Town Meeting’s structure, as well as the infrequency of its meetings, does not provide an environment where this level of collaboration can be achieved. This results in massive delays in potentially beneficial opportunities to the town as well as missed opportunities by business partners who do not wish to deal with the long, drawn out time line this process poses. With a Mayor and Council, the issues that Town Meeting currently work on, can constantly evolve and grow, without the strain of meetings that are spread out as much as 6 months apart, so that the elected officials can make better decisions for Framingham.
Additionally, the current format offers no level of accountability. Virtually every Framingham citizen I know has some form of complaint about the town, but no one to actually point a finger at. With a (theoretical) 216-member governing body, there is no single person, or small group of people, who are held accountable for the actions of Town Meeting as a whole. As a result, there is a lot of complaining, but no one to hold responsible. There have been many who have argued that the proposed city structure takes power away from too many individuals and puts it in the hands of too few. However, there’s a saying that is applicable here. Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth. Just because there are up to 216 individuals representing the town voters, that does not mean that its best for the citizen’s interests. For example, to follow something as complicated as a town’s $250m budget, the high level information that is provided to the TM members is not nearly enough detail to make informed decisions. That is why virtually all items on the line-by-line budget review are approved by Town Meeting. This work is best left to the experts hired to run the town. With a Mayor and Council, there is direct accountability and a source to seek out answers from, so many of the questions citizens are asking today can be answered.
I truly believe that everyone who has voiced their opinion about what the future of Framingham’s government structure should look like sincerely has the town’s best interests at heart.
However, our town needs change.
We need to have efficiency, accountability, collaboration and compromise, and compared to the current Town Meeting structure, the Charter Commission’s City proposal supports those four values.
Town Meeting member Precinct 5