The Issues Facing Our Community
On April 4, the voters face a big decision – one that will shape Framingham’s future.
We live in a great community, but ask yourself: Is our government structure helping us effectively solve the problems we face? Are you confident it will continue to do so in the decades to come?
Accountability to equal representation, the proposed Home Rule Charter addresses the issues facing our community today within our current structure.
Unlike today, under the charter you get to pick your leaders, and you get to get rid of them too if they aren’t doing what you want. Isn’t that what democracy is supposed to be about? For example, if you think the town is too pro-development or anti-development now, what do you do? Can’t vote out the planning board, as there isn’t a contest. Can’t change TM members because there only been a handful of races in last decade. In fact, there have been 3 formally contested town meeting races out of 720 possible races. Town Meeting voted to reduce its size from 216 to 162 to increase competition and reduce vacancies, yet it still has 25 vacancies and only 3 competitive races out of 82 on this year’s ballot.
Giving up 4-6 consecutive weeks in April/May and then in October, along with increasingly called Special Town Meetings, is a big commitment out of reach for many – including young professionals and parents with school & sports commitments. It is no wonder why it is hard to find people to run.
While there have been some Selectman races, since there are five of them, changing a policy might take several election cycles. With a Mayor and Council, there are fewer races, but each is more important. You know who to credit (and reward with re-election) and who to blame if your will is not being followed.
If you have an issue in town, who do you call? The town manager? Your town meeting member? Selectman? It is hard to know – but with a Council member from your neighborhood or the Mayor, who you know by name, you can reach out to them. They are accountable to you.
The 11 member council will meet regularly, and that will lead to better results for us all. Town meeting is scheduled to meet twice a year, with as needed “special” meetings. But the lack of consistency of their meetings is why town meeting reform, while helpful, isn’t as ideal as having a council.
If there are important bylaws to be considered, or zoning and planning work to be done, we shouldn’t do it by cramming for town meetings, seeing if it passes and saying “we’ll talk about it in 6 months” if it the proposals aren’t quite there yet. We should be able to get together in a week or two, tinker with proposals and fix details, and then pass initiatives. Councils can do that, and town meeting can’t. Cities like Marlborough have been able to respond more quickly than Framingham in terms of mixed-used zoning or other items, and as a result we are on the tail end of some stuff that we could have been leaders on. That’s a big loss for all of us.
Diversity and equity are important, and the charter treats different parts of town far more equally than our current system. For example, for the first time in years, there will be school committee representation from the South side of town, which is critical because most of students in Framingham live there. People in each part of Framingham will have a counselor in their district who they know they can turn to with issues and concerns.
While reducing the number of seats in town meeting may have disadvantages, a council of 11 has the advantage of being small enough that each person will be able to speak, share, and advocate for the issues people bring to them in a timely way. Our best decisions are made when voices from all neighborhoods of Framingham are heard. This structure helps with that and is vastly more equitable than what we have now.
We deserve a government that is not only accountable to the voters, but transparent. During the Charter Commission’s public hearings, they heard a lot from residents about the topic of transparency and campaign finance. Today, not all of our elected officials have to follow State Ethics Laws nor are they required to post decisions within a timely manner. We should expect more from those who represent us and act in our interest.
The Charter addresses these concerns in the following way:
- Requiring strict reporting and enforcement to the state on a monthly basis – currently reports are filed annually with Town with no enforcement;
- Requiring all key decision-makers and elected officials to disclose their financial interests – this is not currently required;
- Instituting term-limits for Mayor and Council to ensure new ideas and voices have access — this is not currently required;
- Making null and void any decisions that are not publicly posted with five days — this is not currently required;
- Creating a nine-member citizens oversight committee — this is new;
- Establishing neighborhood districts with two-year terms to increase access and accountability in government;
- Prohibiting any self-dealing by officials – self dealing by Town Meeting members is currently allowed; and,
- Providing strong checks and balances amongst and between the various centers of power in our government – this does not exist today.
These provisions will not guarantee that Framingham is scandal free forever, but each make vast improvement over our current approach and provide the strongest citizen safeguards that are available.
Government for Our Time and Place
Town governments are great for some communities. But we have reached the ceiling of the town meeting/selectman/manager’s effectiveness right now. That’s not because we have bad people, but because the structure was not set up for us to succeed in this time and place. For all the reasons we’ve mentioned and more, a city structure would be more adaptable to the pace and type of work that needs to be done for Framingham to reach its fullest potential. It is a great place, and we’d love to have the government be more part of solutions than it has been in the last decade.
We believe it is important for all of us to embrace change with our eyes open about the results to expect. While this Council-Mayor form of government will give our Town the accountability, ethics, transparency and representation we today lack, it will not by itself immediately resolve any of our vexing challenges. It will not instantly lower taxes, fill shopping centers or avoid costly mistakes, but it will provide for an open, transparent, ethical and accountable process for us to address them.
Lastly, just because we change our government structure does not mean our values as a community change. What will change is our ability to make these values a reality.