By Adam Blumer
FRAMINGHAM – Tonight (September 23), the City Council is planning to vote to make a significant change to how the government of Framingham will work, perhaps the biggest single change since we became a city four years ago.
They are voting to give themselves the power to grant special permits for development rather than have that power remain in the hands of the Planning Board.
In my view, voting for this would be a huge mistake for Framingham at this time with all sorts of impacts, both because of the content of the idea itself and because of the process/timing of the decision making. I’ll briefly explain:
- Even if it were a good power for the Council to have, this Council is too busy as it is to do this job well. They already have a large number of full and subcommittee meetings as is. Putting more on their plate (and cutting out the voices of others with experience in this realm in the process) is problematic.
- This will likely discourage people from running for Council. In this election season, we’ve seen close to half of Councillors run unopposed. This lack of competition is bad for Framingham. In fact, when I was a Charter commissioner, we highlighted more competition in our new system as a benefit to the community, but I fear we are not seeing that come to pass as much as I’d like.
How does this connect to the vote tonight? When I’ve asked people why they didn’t consider running, a common refrain was that people were worried about the workload and the technical knowledge needed to be a successful council member. Adding new responsibilities, especially ones like this, will make it less likely we’ll get new voices willing to run for office. That’s bad for our community.
- We don’t need to do this now or this way. Whether you support this idea or not, it is a BIG change. Yet, councilors are proposing making this change just before elections. At least 2 of the councilors voting tonight are not running for re-election. This essentially robs voters from their districts of any meaningful say on the decision and puts this council in the role of making a key decision on their way out the door. Four others are running unopposed, also giving their residents limited options if unhappy.
- Few people know this is happening, so why rush it? It seems to me that even many people who follow political goings on are not aware of this proposal. That is not surprising, as the Mayor’s race and the start of school have dominated headlines.
There is a much better way for the city to decide the path forward: wait and debate this with the new council. This should be a topic of attention in the Mayoral race and all the district races. There are different valid perspectives on the proposal and they deserve airtime and exploration; candidates’ views should matter on this topic.
Framingham would be better off with a topic like this discussed at a separate public hearing or via a non-partisan event where the pros and cons can be hashed out in detail. Instead, we’ve gotten this mixed into Council agendas at the end of the summer with literally dozens of other topics on agendas. This is not what good government looks like. Going further, we have an existing process for making charter changes. It might be helpful to consider this change along with others when that happens.
The Council has a really important role to play in the future of Framingham, and I fear this will appear to some as a power grab that lessons trust and hurts their ability to do their work on all fronts.
At the very least, delaying ,if not rejecting this proposal outright, is the right thing to do for all of us. If you agree, please shoot a quick email to your Councilor today.
Adam Blumer is a Framingham resident and a former Framingham Charter Commissioner.
Editor’s Note: The opinion pieces was updated at 12:15 p.m.