Sisitsky: Pandemic Has Exposed Government Deficiencies & Leadership Shortcomings

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Editor’s Note: SOURCE asked all three candidates on Thursday afternoon to email by Saturday, July 24, in their own words, what is the #1 issue facing the City of Framingham and “3 specific ways” they would fix the issue, if elected Mayor in November.

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By Charlie Sisitsky

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FRAMINGHAM – The ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to present the most significant challenges for Framingham, But the pandemic has also exposed critical local government bureaucratic deficiencies and leadership shortcomings that need to be fixed.

Framingham needs a new and experienced leader, who will work collaboratively, respectfully and civilly with key stakeholders to reset our course with a thoughtful strategic plan to face the road ahead.

The unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 unfortunately will continue to cause adverse local affects in our community for the foreseeable future. But sadly, the pandemic has further exposed real, and avoidable administrative deficiencies in our local government, the source of which, in no small part, lie in the executive branch.

Day after day we learn of missteps at City Hall that could have been avoided: missed filings and deadlines, miscounting of key health data, and, department head and board departures that have left our citizen-led government woefully unsupported and our professional departments understaffed and rudderless.

These leadership and management deficiencies have led to missed opportunities to help our schoolchildren and the public education system that serves them. It’s caused unnecessary angst and mistrust among our Senior Citizens, who need and deserve access to programming and resources. It has hampered our efforts – long in the making and dating back to Town Meeting Days – to make our Community Greener and embrace municipal solar and alternative energy projects. It has left our business community – particularly the small businesses that drive our local
economy – without a seat at the table or a reason to believe that local government cares about their plight. And our diverse city has seen our minority population be unproportionally impacted by the horrific nature of the virus, and the current leadership has not addressed their needs enough.

It needs to change now, and I am committed to driving this change. I humbly bring to this task:

 nearly forty years of professional municipal executive leadership experience, as both a Director of Planning and Community Development, and Director of Public Works
 decades of public, civic volunteer service to Framingham as a Selectman, City Councilor, and community volunteer
 a concrete plan to make much-needed government improvements, and,
 an attitude and an approach focused on collaboration and inclusion, rather than “who gets the credit.”

I love Framingham. I chose to live here and raise my family here way back in 1971. Our vibrant, friendly and diverse community is a wonderful thing. But the recent inability of our elected leaders to work together collaboratively, respectfully and effectively to address the real and urgent resource needs of our public schools, our environment, and our seniors is very troubling. This inability – or unwillingness – to work together has left our business community – especially local small businesses , and many of our most at-risk community members – in the midst of the pandemic – without a concerted voice of hope and support during what has been a challenging and grim time for so many.

I’ve said many times that most of my professional life and my years of public service, have been spent building bridges – literally and figuratively. If there’s one thing the past four years here in Framingham has taught us, it’s that we need a Mayor with the knowledge and experience who will do a better job of working together for the benefit of the whole community. No leader can, nor should they try, to do it alone. Whether or not you like everyone you come into contact with, or agree with their point of view, each and every person in our community deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.

As we continue to focus on planning for a post-pandemic economic recovery, we need to draw upon the wisdom and experience of all our community stakeholders and work together for the best interests of our City. The stakes are high and the opportunities are too important to miss out on. I am fortunate to have a unique combination of professional executive experience and a proven track record of committed civic engagement and public service which I bring to the tasks at hand. I am ready to serve on day one.


Three Key Areas to Fix

1) Let’s Start By Treating Others With Respect

First, I plan to bring a culture of collaboration and cooperation to the Mayor’s Office and set “the tone at the top” as one of cooperative, open and transparent, respectful civic engagement. With the School Committee, City Council, legislative delegation, and neighborhood groups, I will always strive to find common ground, and treat others as equal partners. We will re-institute the customer service policy adopted by our City that has been left ignored and unused – to make sure that when people call or email City Hall, they get the answers they need quickly, thoroughly and respectfully. No “hot-mic” name calling, no profanity-laced aspersions, no thin-skinned blame-shifting … just civil and polite discourse focused on getting the job done.

Framingham’s Mayor has lost more than a dozen department heads and volunteer board leaders since January 2020. Something has to change culturally at City Hall or government services will cease to work entirely if this trend of departures continues. I will use my contacts and network of more than forty years in municipal executive management to personally search out and recruit the “best and brightest” to join our team. I will incentivize and empower our leadership team to think boldly and innovatively to address our community’s challenges.

As part of this cultural change, I will immediately reset and relaunch how the Mayor’s Office has managed public records requests. Government works best when it is transparent and accessible. The current model by which the state has had to intervene repeatedly to force the Mayor to provide records to the public is neither cost effective nor good government policy.

2) Fix the Budget – Starting With The Budget Process – And Restore Funding to our Schools

Second, I will work to greatly improve the annual City budget development process to produce a budget that more accurately reflects the needs of our key community stakeholders. Working as a Selectman and City Councilor, I learned firsthand that collaboration and constructive critical oversight that includes hearing from members of the community is the best way to succeed. I will schedule and hold public hearings on the annual budget early in the process, bring Department Heads into the community to hear directly from residents on what changes they seek, and make structural changes to set the City’s financial picture on a better path. I will also create a detailed plan with public inputs, as well as from boards and commissions for federal and state grants, earmarks, and programs to support our City. A Mayor’s role is to facilitate a coordinated approach in order to bring in big wins for our city from our legislators. I believe my experience and record makes me the ideal candidate to collaborate with
Assistant Speaker of the U.S. House Katherine Clark, Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka, and Representatives Jack Patrick Lewis, Maria Robinson, and Carmine Gentile. The next Mayor’s term is the ideal time to take advantage of their unique seniority and potential.

A critical budget issue that requires immediate attention involves the needs of our public schools. Although the current administration sought six different times to cut the school budget, the final budget FY 22 was built on $4.4 million in non-recurring funds. This “worry about it later” pproach by the Mayor has the potential to decimate future school funding. Tax-payer funded contributions to the school system under the Mayor’s budgets have dropped each year – and each year reserves have been used to fill the resulting budget gaps. Depleting our reserves in this manner is simply untenable. I will work tirelessly with the School Committee and Superintendent on the annual operating and capital budget process to make sure we do everything we can to restore the cuts from recent years and restore our City’s commitment to adequately funding our public education needs. I will work to help address the school roof project issues that the Mayor’s capital budget submissions have chosen to defer again
and again, creating public safety issues and rising construction costs. I will require that all new municipal roof projects be constructed with solar panels and to limit green house gas emissions to meet other energy efficiency measures wherever possible.

Our budget planning must also include plans to purchase a property south of Route 9 for a long discussed PreK-5 Early Education Center and Elementary School to finally help address long bus rides for our youngest students and equity for that part of the City. As a member and very first Chair of the Fuller Middle School Building Committee, I know what it takes to bring together the dozens of aspects and partners to secure funding and a plan for a new school. As Mayor, I cannot wait to bring my experience to support the next new school project in our city. I will also require that the City’s Community and Economic Development Division coordinates with the school department when reviewing residential housing projects to ensure that there is thoughtful planning in relation to enrollment, class sizes, staffing, bus routes, school choice, traffic, and that financial support from developers is negotiated.

The budgeting process is in dire need for greater Mayoral oversight of the day-to-day operational functions of City Hall. Recent double-property tax bills, skyrocketing water and sewer bills, and continued bail-outs of the sewer and water enterprise funds are all clear signs of financial
mismanagement by the current administration. These bailouts – relying on one-time sources of revenue, rainy day funds and reserves to fill budgetary gaps, are constantly taking taxpayer funding away from our other critical needs and mortgaging our future. Ignoring and deferring crumbling infrastructure projects means we are not taking care of some of our greatest city assets; failure to enact the green policy initiatives that we already decided are necessary to help protect our environment and fight climate change are moving too slow.

3) Show Up, and Get to Work

Finally, as your Mayor, I will show up. I will show up to work every day – here in Framingham at City Hall. I do not view the position of Mayor as one that requires out of state travel to conferences and appearances focused on profile building. I will be a hands-on Mayor who makes sure phones get answered and work gets done. I will be present at all School Committee meetings as an Ex Officio Member, and will be on call for all City Council meetings without ever expecting the Council to have to vote to request the Mayor’s presence, as they’ve had to do in recent years. I will have regular open office hours and a commitment to attend other Board and Commission meetings too. I won’t let necessary requests to our legislative delegation fall through the cracks, like the administration’s recent failure to follow through on the much-needed expansion of our Board of Health. I’ll keep a close eye on our professional staff, so never again will we have a situation like this past year, where 300 laptops were
donated to Framingham to help homebound seniors so they could have a connection to the outside world in the midst of COVID-19, only to be left gathering dust on a shelf, when only a small fraction were distributed while the rest remain unused. Ironically, our school department distributed thousands of laptops to students in need in the span of a single weekend.

Again, I love our community and I am proud to call it my home. I am committed to making it better and I am wholly invested in Framingham’s future, in part because of my three grandchildren, all students in Framingham Public Schools, who deserve – like all of Framingham’s youth do – a future that is bright. I have always been available and accessible and I encourage you to share with me your thoughts and ideas on how we can collaboratively and respectfully move forward and make Framingham a better home for all. And I humbly ask for your support in the upcoming Mayoral elections on September 14th and November 2.

editor

email: editor@FraminghamSource.com call or text at 508-315-7176