By Cesar Stewart Morales
FRAMINGHAM – Framingham neighborhoods have a history of coming together around important matters. Whether we are in search of spending time with neighbors in community or organizing seriously to advocate on an issue, neighborhood groups pop up from time to time and many have become long-time established voices in the City. We have seen the positive impact that comes from local groups that are created by just one person, a few people or larger groups. A few recent examples include the Framingham Coronavirus Community Outreach Facebook group, Framingham Families for Racial Equity in Education (FFREE) and Keep Framingham Beautiful; of course, there are many more.
District 8 Councilor John Stefanini has recently proposed an ordinance to create Neighborhood Advisory Groups (NAGs). The latest version of the proposed ordinance would recognize local groups as official advisory groups or councils throughout the City, recognition being granted at the discretion of the City Council.
If approved, NAGs would be required to be established as well-organized, non-profit entities with bylaws, designated officers and would be encouraged to hold public meetings, at least 6 times per year. The mission, size and representation over a geographical area or any future changes to these would be subject to first being approved by the City Council.
Any ordinance truly geared around neighborhood groups should make it easier for neighborhood groups to form or, at least, provide more benefits than it does additional requirements.
This goal can be accomplished by simply creating a Framingham Neighborhood Groups Registry (Registry). The Registry would allow all locally organized groups to be recognized as a Neighborhood Group and be listed on the Registry.
The Registry would allow groups to share their Name, Mission Statement, Contact Information and Geographic Neighborhood Area on the City’s Website.
Similar to Stefanini’s proposal, City departments, boards and commissions would be asked to give special consideration to the groups listed on the Registry when requesting to be added to their agendas or when requesting professional or financial assistance in the form of fee waivers. In addition, notifications of utility and public works projects would be required to be shared with the Registry groups.
Creating local government councils, as the proposed ordinance essentially does, would likely be groups made up of local activists and former Town Meeting members. This is a group of people that are very much still actively engaged with their local government. One of the issues with our Town Meeting form of government was the lack of equity in the representation of all neighborhoods.
Further enhancing the voices of the politically active residents in our community, I worry, would make it more difficult for other voices to be heard.
I believe that the alternative solution that I propose in creating the Framingham Neighborhood Groups Registry would help us better achieve what has been purported to be the desired effect, increasing transparency, local advocacy and encouraging the building of community and neighborhood groups of all sizes, in all areas, of the City.
A Table summarizing differences between NAGs and Neighborhood Groups is below:
Cesar Stewart-Morales is the District 2 elected City Councilor