By Mary Kate Feeney
FRAMINGHAM – As I have been talking to neighbors about the state of affairs in Framingham, a theme is emerging: our elected leaders have lost their focus on the people they serve.
I hear over and over about the disconnect between what is happening in our neighborhoods and the lack of action in the Memorial Building. Everything is distant and disconnected. There is a lot of frustration in our community. And residents don’t feel their representatives care about what they have to say.
The lack of treating residents as partners in government is what causes shocked outrage when we learn there is no right hand turn in the new Nobscot intersection or frustration with late water and sewer bills. It also appears in apathy.
The greatest reflection of this disconnection is the outreach from the city and elected leaders. The website, which I wrote about a few months ago, remains a constant point of frustration. Not a day goes by without hearing a complaint from someone who couldn’t find meeting materials or contact information for a department.
It is embarrassing.
When I saw the Council discussing the proposed Technology Advisory Committee to solve issues with resident engagement, it piqued my interest. Listening to the debate, I have to say the Council has this all wrong.
Framingham does not have a technology problem. It has a communication problem.
We could have the best technology in the world, but it still won’t solve the city’s mindset.
Framingham needs to become citizen centered.
The proposed Technology Advisory Committee is a revitalization of a similar committee from Town Meeting, which was discontinued due to lack of activity. The proposed TAC 2.0 is made of department heads and city employees, with little room for resident voice.
Want to make our city better? Stop the insider chatter and look outwards. Talk to the residents and small businesses. The last thing Framingham needs is another committee of employees to tackle an issue without instruction, guidance, or support from our elected leaders.
Let’s prioritize the needs of our residents, not the jobs of IT professionals. Let’s reimagine our website that is for everyone – the least tech savvy, new residents, visually impaired, those whose English is not their first language – and is welcoming, highly useful and beautiful.
When the City of Boston redesigned their website, what they really did was redesign how residents and businesses interacted with their government.
Boston officials approached the redesign of their site with four guiding principles:
1.) act as a helpful human;
2.) be equal parts warm and official;
3.) help users navigate a complex system; and
4.) build an energizing environment.
Their process was rooted in citizen involvement from day one. They talked to residents to understand the challenges and reached out to different groups for input. A true collaboration and partnership.
By putting themselves in residents’ shoes, they ended up with a process and a website that promoted interactions with their city government, inspiring people to think differently and get involved with their community.
Framingham officials need to stop playing this endless game of insider baseball. Election year proposals of empty committees is an insult to our neighbors.
In fact, the Council recently passed a by-law improving transparency and public records access. How about implementing that first before adding another committee?
Like Boston, we must reimagine how our government interacts with our neighborhoods. This post-pandemic era provides us with ample opportunity to rethink and act. We cannot afford to waste this gift.
Framingham must bring the Memorial Building to residents. But the only way to do that is for officials to emerge from their silos and engage with the community they serve.
We must do better.
Mary Kate Feeney, a resident of Pheasant Hill, is a candidate for District 3 Councilor and a former aide to Governor Deval L. Patrick.