By Caroline Lanni
FRAMINGHAM – Earlier this year, District 8 City Councilor John Stefanini submitted an ordinance to the City Council to help neighborhoods create advisory groups.
The matter was referred to the City Council’s rules and ordinances subcommittee, chaired by Stefanini for review.
Two meetings have been held on the matter with a third scheduled for tonight, March 11 at 6 p.m.
Stefanini said “Newton, Boston, and other cities have effectively harnessed this by establishing neighborhood groups and giving them a strong voice in local decision-making.”
Stefanini said Framingham could support neighborhood groups “to preserve and promote neighborhoods, essential to a healthy, vibrant, and thriving community,”
“Well organized neighborhood groups like Friends of Saxonville, have demonstrated great success in interacting with local and State Government,” said Stefnaini.
Councilor Stefanini said neighborhood groups help neighbors communicate more effectively and create a stronger sense of community.
Under the ordinance, the City Council, “upon petition of area voters, establish one or more neighborhood areas to represent or provide services that the Neighborhood Advisory Group.”
Under the original ordinance proposal, a “petition may be submitted to the Council requesting the establishment of a neighborhood area. The petition must be signed by 20 percent of the voters residing in the area, but not fewer than 400 such residents. The petition shall describe the general territorial boundaries of the proposed service area and, the Group’s name,”
Based on feedback from the first subcommittee meeting, Stefanini said “we reduced the thresholds from 20% to 10% for collecting the petition, and 250 signatures, we made the geographic areas a little bit looser.”
“We added a requirement that the Council annually convene all the neighborhood groups to have a discussion on what to do,” said Stefanini at the last meeting in February.’
District 3 resident Sue Bernstein at the last subcommittee meeting asked the subcommittee “Who determines the geographic area?”
Stefanini said, “These groups would be self-defining, so a group of neighbors whether it is Wood Acres or Pheasant Hill – could devise their own area and their own definition so that it is self-selecting.”
Stefanini said it is the neighborhood’s job “to come together” and they are making decisions for themselves and their neighbors.
“You create your own association,” said Stefanini.
Nobscot resident Aimee Powelka told the subcommittee she liked the idea of neighborhood groups for community building, but was concerned about equity issues since it takes a lot of time and resources to do this organizing.
“I would I guess encourage that the City or any citizen group look for funding maybe for part time staff to help different areas form neighborhood groups. For those who are especially underrepresented groups in a particular geographic area,” said Powelka.
Powelka said translation services should be included in the neighborhood groups.
“Everyone in Framingham has a more equal chance to participate and have a voice in our Community Government,” said Powelka.
Stefanini said that those were great suggestions.
Susan Petroni, one of the founders and a board members for the Coburnville-Tripoli Neighborhood Association said the Association, which formed in 2019, has brought old and new residents together through social events, but also accomplished items like a new 4-way stop on Bethany and Withrop.
“We were having traffic issues. We really weren’t getting the message across until we as a group, as an Association, and as a neighborhood could say that this is an issue, and it was causing problems in our neighborhood,” and then we were heard,” said Petroni.
“I think the Neighborhood Associations for each neighborhood are really important because it helps you have a bigger voice in Government – one person can complain but it makes a difference when there are 20, 30, 50 people at a neighborhood meeting,” said Petroni.
But neighborhood associations are not just to get things done but “to become neighbors again,” and to have social events like the Pheasant Hill Neighborhood, said Petroni.
Editor’s Note: In full transparency Petroni is the founder and editor of SOURCE.
Pheasant Hill Neighborhood Association member Tiel Wadland said we have been social in the past and “it’s been great, but it’s a tough job to run this whole thing.”
“Historically folks have been saying they don’t want a lot of politics in this group, it is a social group, but we could divide and conquer,” said Wadland.
Wadland told the subcommittee she had issues with additional reporting requirements of the proposed ordinance.
“I hear you loud and clear – less bureaucracy,” said Stefanini to Wadland.
Petroni explained that the idea for association for her neighborhood stems from the bus stop at Roosevelt Park in the Tripoli neighborhood. There is no neighborhood school, and thus everyone gathers at the park in the morning and in the afternoon as it is the bus stop for a dozen schools.
“We see these other parents dropping their kids off and picking them up, but it is a quick five-minute exchange with them, and it was a thought instead of doing only a five-minute exchange, I wanted to do a huge block party and the park was the perfect place, said Petroni.
The first-ever Coburnville-Tripoli Neighborhood block party was held in 2019 and more than 400 individuals from the diverse neighborhood attended. The coronavirus pandemic cancelled the 2nd annual event in 2020, and the Association is working on planning the 2021 block party.
Downtown Framingham Inc, Director Courtney Thraen helped organize block parties for the Lokerville neighborhood at Butterworth Parkj, and one at Anna Murphy Park in the Coburnville-Tripoli neighborhoods. But she said where she lives on the north side it is hard to find an area for a block party.
Petroni said parks are a great place for neighborhood gatherings.
The block party was a “great melting pot of the neighborhood,” she added.
Petroni said she requested a cruiser and police motorcycle for the block party, but the police department came through with so much more.
“I want to give a shout out to [now Chief Baker] Deputy Chief Baker at the time as being really great at community policing – he really wanted people those who lived there for a long time and those who just moved there to embrace the community policing. He literally brought dozens of police officers,: she said.
District 9 City Councilor Tracey Bryant said, “I believe the neighborhood groups should organically occur based on interest in residence desire to do so.”
Bryant said she does not think the City Council needs to give approval for the neighborhood groups, and did not see the need for the ordinance.
According to the proposed Ordinance, “A Neighborhood Advisory Group may exercise any powers and perform any functions within the neighborhood area expressly authorized by the Council.”
“Each Group shall make an annual report of its activities to the mayor and council which shall be posted on the municipal bulletin board. The Council shall annually convene all. Groups,” said the proposed Ordinance.
“In my district it takes an incredible – incredible amount of energy, effort, and time and even then, you are going to get a small minority because of people’s lives, working, busy, and different interests,” said Bryant.
Bryant said “when the Coburnville-Tripoli Neighborhood Association was formed, some people from District 8 they felt like second class citizens to that group because it was named, and it was formed without their input, and the officers were already picked.”
“None of this is true Tracey,” said Councilor Stefanini, who is Secretary of the Coburnville-Neighborhood Association. “We had a neighborhood group with 400 people there and everyone felt comfortable coming in. We had Latino voices, Brazilian voices, immigrants, new residents, old residents, and so if someone wasn’t comfortable, they were a small group of people.”
Stefanini said all the officers and the Board were voted at a public meeting.
Bryant said, “What you say is factual, that is your reality, but that was not everyone’s reality.”
“It is a great group [District 8,] but some people’s voices don’t count because it does not agree with that group’s vision, so would they have to go make their own subgroup,” said Councilor Bryant.
“These are not government driven groups, their self-selecting, and self-organizing within given areas, and the names weren’t chosen by anyone in the group they are the names of the community that have been there more than a century,” said Stefanini.
“Nobody who volunteered was turned away,” said Stefanini.
There are some “residents of District 8, who did see it differently, I don’t say they were unfactual either,” said Bryant.
Petroni said, the Coburnville-Tripoli Neighborhood Association group “was never going to be a District 8 group.”
District 8 is the political district in the City comprised of Precincts 15 and 18.
The Association is “not a huge political district, it’s a very small neighborhood group,” said Petroni, who has lived on Fay Road since 2000.
“The Coburnville-Tripoli Neighborhood Association is not District 8, anymore than the Friends of Saxonville is District 2, or Pheasant Hill is District 3, or Warren-Oakes Neighborhood Association is District 5,” said Petroni.
Councilor Ottaviani said, “Getting together with your neighbors is a great thing. It’s not supposed to be a political group, it is supposed to be about the neighborhood and what is best for the neighborhoods and the people in the neighborhoods.”
District 3 resident Mary Kate Feeney said, she is very proud of her neighborhood because they use their their Association, and its Facebook page, to connect with one another.
“This is about giving everyone a network to help out – I understand that there might be some hesitation because we don’t want government oversight or we don’t want the Mayor to be involved but it is an important length for neighbors to find out what is going on in their communities and it is an important length for elected officials to find out what is going on in these neighborhoods,” said Feeney.
David Longden, president of of the Friends of Saxonville neighborhood group, said his group is doing a lot of what they are trying to accomplish here.
“One thing we managed to do we created a newsletter and were very adamant to sticking to the schedule on this,” said Longden.
He added that they leave the newsletters at neighborhood businesses.
Longden said, “We make sure everyone knows what we are doing and what’s going on in the neighborhood.”
He mentioned people having emails and sending the newsletter that way. He also said their dues goes towards creating the newsletter.
Longden explained as a neighborhood group they have also advocated for things through the government like the Danforth Bridge reconstruction.
“We do like our independence and we aren’t a part of the City – when we have some things discussed and know our priorities, we then bring in the Politicians,” said Longden.
Nicole Doak, a member of the Warren Oaks neighborhood member said, “The benefit we have seen – the feeling of belonging to a neighborhood and knowing your neighbors.”
Doak said the group started as a Facebook group and having the group “builds the neighborhood bonds.”
The subcommittee will continue to review the proposed ordinance and then vote on it.
It will then go to the full 11-member Council for a vote.
Caroline Lanni is a 2021 spring SOURCE intern. Lanni is a senior communications major with a minor in journalism at Framingham State University. She wants to pursue a media career in broadcast journalism. She is a member of the dance team at Framingham State.