On April 4th Framingham voters will be tasked with voting on a proposed charter that would change our form of government to a city with an elected Mayor and a City Council. As a long-time community activist and former 20-year Town Meeting Member I am voting yes on changing to a city, and here’s why:
Improving the Framingham Schools
The proposed charter makes significant and welcome changes to the School Committee. Primarily, the Mayor will have a non-voting seat on the School Committee and all School Committee Members will be elected by district rather than at-large.
Bringing Framingham’s most powerful and influential leader to school discussions is a key plus and gives the most important person in the new budget process a direct window into the needs of students/staff, firsthand understanding of the effect of unfunded mandates, and the importance of particular programs to particular students. That level of understanding does not happen today and will bring about a stronger tie between the issues facing the schools and the town budget. Unification between the town and school departments in purchasing areas could provide significant cost savings as well.
I learned this week that currently there is not a single School Committee Member who resides south of Route 9. We can do better. The proposed charter would ensure neighborhood/district representation by creating one elected School Committee Member per district, spacing out members throughout the entire town and providing true representation to all students and families.
I ran for Selectman in 2008 and focused much of my attention on how to fix the blight problem with our old shopping plazas. All these years later, Nobscot and Mt. Wayte are still in disarray. Our current form of government has no individual with the authority to get negotiate resolution to these problems. The Nobscot owner has dragged his feet for over a decade now because he understands that has no position of power from which to negotiate. When current boards try to do something, he just waits until the town becomes focused on another issue. A strong Mayor will have the authority to sit down with these owners and finally demand action.
It has been often discussed that “big money” will come into Framingham as developers and business interests from outside of town will start donating to Mayoral and Council campaigns. This already happens today. These type of donations are commonplace in politics and are not illegal, but voters should be aware that they are going on. Take a look at the campaign finance reports from our current Selectmen and Planning Board members from the last decade or so, they are already accepting campaign donations from developers and outside business interests but nobody seems to notice.
If this charter is passed there will finally be a spotlight placed on local campaigns that does not exist today that will provide voters with a clear picture of potential conflicts.
Along with many other elected boards in Framingham, Town Meeting is simply not representative of the community. This cannot be understated. From the most current online list of 2017 Town Meeting Members, four precincts are significantly under-represented (prec. 8, 16, 17, 18), meaning that 22% of our town is represented by just 12% of the Town Meeting voting power. The system is inherently non-representative and the problem has only gotten worse. To me, this is reason alone to make a change.
When I first became elected to Town Meeting it was a very effective body. Most Members did their homework. There was respectful, informed debate. The Moderator had control of the proceedings. Standing committees were respected.
Recently, much has changed. There is often a problem with basic civility, the most basic of questions are asked on the floor of TM because many people do not come prepared (wasting significant time for those who are prepared). Meetings take twice as long because there is continual and often foolish second guessing of the Moderator’s actions. The same people speak about every article, regardless of what they have to add to the discussion. Attendance is often poor, with very few residents from some precincts attending meetings at all. Beyond small changes, Town Meeting has not shown an ability to adapt.
I urge you to read the Charter, attend meetings and forums, ask questions, speak with your neighbors and most importantly, get out and vote! I will be voting yes on the city charter question on April 4th and I hope you will as well.
Former Town Meeting Member