Framingham Mayor Spicer Lifts City’s Hiring Freeze; Surprise To City Councilors

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FRAMINGHAM – Wednesday night, Mayor Yvonne Spicer told a City Council subcommittee a hiring freeze put in place in March has been lifted.

In her budget memo to the 11-member Framingham City Council in April, Mayor Spicer wrote the “City has implemented a hiring freeze, which began on March 18th which will continue through FY21. Only positions that directly impact public safety or public health will be considered for hire.”

Calling the City’s Economic Development, Planning & Community Development Division in “crisis mode,” with five departures in the last year, and needing to “rebuild the division,” Mayor Spicer repeatedly told the City Council’s economic development subcommittee and its chair District 4 City Councilor Michael Cannon, that the hiring freeze was only through “fiscal year 2020,” which ended on June 30.

“Since there is a hiring freeze and those vacancies, How are we going to more forward?” asked Councilor Cannon on Wednesday night.

When Councilor Cannon read her quote back to her and again asked how she was going to replace the empty spots, two that have become empty since the City Council passed the Mayor’s fiscal year 2021 budget in June, she told Cannon he was wrong.

“The hiring freeze was until FY 20, which just concluded” said the Mayor to the subcommittee. “There had been a freeze on replacing positions in FY20. We are in FY21.”

“So it was until fiscal year 21, not through fiscal year 21?: Councilor Cannon asked the Mayor Wednesday night.

“It was through fiscal year 20,” which just concluded on June 30,” responded the Mayor.

“So the hiring freeze has been lifted?” asked Councilor Cannon.

“The hiring freeze was through FY 20, which concluded on June 30. We are now in FY 21,” responded the Mayor.

But the Mayor signed that budget memo with that statement in April and emailed it to the 11-member Council on April 30.

SOURCE emailed Mayor Spicer for a statement on her change in the hiring freeze policy based on her statement Wednesday night, July 8, just after 9 p.m. As of 11 p.m. today, July 9, neither the Mayor nor her spokesperson Public Information Officer Kelly McFalls had responded to the email.

News of the hiring freeze lifted was a surprise to Councilor Cannon, who chairs the City Council’s economic development subcommittee, but was also a surprise to City Council Chair George P. King Jr. and finance subcommittee chair Adam Steiner.

“I was under the impression from the budget presentation that the hiring freeze remained intact through FY 2021.  If there is a change in that announced policy, I hope the Mayor will quickly explain to the Council and the public what the new plan is,” said Council Chair King.

“As with the other city councilors, it was a surprise to me that the hiring freeze had expired on June 30 and that this change in policy was not explained or justified to the Council in advance,’ said District 3 Councilor Steiner. “Any positions that the Mayor does intend to fill in this fiscal year should be described to the City Council including the financial impact of the hire including potential benefit costs as well as how the position will help to provide direct services to the people of Framingham.”

“I was surprised by the Mayor’s comments last night. My understanding was that the hiring freeze would continue through June 30th of 2021, which is the end of the current fiscal year; the exceptions being for health and safety. I supported that policy. To lift the hiring freeze now seems premature,” said Councilor Cannon.

“I believe the revenues in the FY 2021 budget are already overestimated, so we will have to find places to save I believe.  If this decision has been made it will further put pressure on the budget,” said Councilor King.

‘The administration will only be able to fill positions that were included in the FY21 budget and any additional positions that are deemed necessary would have to come before the finance subcommittee and the full City Council for a full vetting. These positions would either have to be essential in terms of public health and safety or an investment that will clearly support the financial strength of the City,” said Councilor Steiner.

“Municipal receivables lag the general economy, so we have not begun to feel the impact of the Covid-related financial crisis. Since the freeze was implemented in March, economic forecasts for municipalities have only grown more severe, so I have concerns about this change in strategy. I look forward to hearing more from the Mayor about her plans,” said Cannon.

“For example, last night (Wednesday) the Mayor mentioned the possibility of filling a newly created economic development administrator position? that was included in the Planning and Community Development reorganization plan. Though economic development should be among the highest priorities for our leadership, this is a position that should not be authorized unless it is consistent with a well-articulated vision for attracting and retaining businesses in Framingham as well as specific metrics that will enable us to evaluate the effectiveness of that role,” said Steiner.

The Planning & Community Development Division, as required by the City Charter, needs to undergo a transformation. It was called for in 2018. A plan was submitted by the Spicer administration on June 9, and revised again on June 16. The plans calls for the creation of a new economic development administrator position, in addition to its director at $118,000 and its assistant director at $99,000.

“It requires people” to do the work, said the Mayor to the committee Wednesday. “We can’t say build bricks with no straw.”

“We have so much potential and great opportunity for economic development, which can only happen if you have a team in place … and we are working on trying to achieve that goal.”

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