FRAMINGHAM – I have heard critics of the proposed charter complain that the Mayor is too “strong”. I believe this concern is often a smokescreen for people who are just not in favor of charter change and they focus on the mayor to make the point. Latching on to a visible and easy to understand component of an argument is a common tactic to seed doubt. As tempting as it is to seize the simple arguments, a look into the density of the charter is warranted.
I admit I am mystified by the idea a strong executive is problematical for a large organization. Notwithstanding that conundrum, if people are worried about a strong executive they should look no further than our Town Manager. Speaking as someone who had the job for seven years, I knew it was strong, I said it at the time, and it has grown only stronger since.
The MetroWest Daily News reported in 2005 on a review of Framingham government undertaken by the Government Study Committee that, “among their findings in interviews with past and present town officials was a lack of authority by selectmen over King, (Town Manager) a lack of accountability by King (Town Manager) and Selectmen….” The irony is this is the very same criticism being thrown at the Mayor in 2017 by some of the very same people.
The Town Manager in Framingham is powerful. Every municipal employee is legally appointed by the Town Manager, much like the Mayor would do. Save four positions, there is no veto, no recourse at all to any Town Manager appointments. The Town Manager could appoint his neighbor as Public Works Director and no one could stop him. The Mayor could make the same appointment, but the Council could veto it. I believe in good will of public officials, so I think neither would do something like that. The point is the ability of the Town Manager to do such things is greater than that of the Mayor.
The Town Manager (and Selectmen) control the legislative branch in a town. They decide when Town Meeting will meet and what it will discuss. The Mayor will not control the legislative branch. There are many more checks and balances on the Mayor than the Town Manager. The voters elect the Mayor, five people appoint the Town Manager. The Town Manager needs only bi annually to appease a disparate and unorganized legislative body of 216 people (less vacancies). The Mayor’s legislature sets their own agenda and meets continually, with the authority to investigate the Administration.
Concerns that mayoral power trumps that of the executive in our current system is just not accurate. Many municipalities in this state have Mayors and none have collapsed under a totalitarian regime. Voters do not get stupid because it is a city. Politicians, even mayors, do not ignore pubic sentiment. In a refined and efficient city government decisions will be transparent. Councilors cannot hide behind 215 other people. One of eleven is more representative, accountable and efficient than one of 216. Having a powerful executive is not a change to Framingham in this charter, having one that is accountable to the people is.
Please vote Yes on April 4th. It’s time.
George P. King, Jr. is a member of the Charter Commision and a former Framingham Town Manager.