What changes and what does not in a new charter?
Considering change can be scary and it is note always easy to understand the process of what happens if voters approve this charter. So we feel it important to try to address a few concerns or misunderstandings are directly as possible.
First of all, if this charter is approved, we do not instantly get rid of every decision ever made by Town Meeting and the Selectmen. In fact, the reality is just the opposite. The Charter notes that every existing bylaw stays in force. A transition committee will examine each one to make sure that prior rules fit the new structure, and obviously rules that currently govern structures we would no longer have (such as bylaws about Selectmen. Town Manager, etc) would be discarded. The bylaws that affect our day to day life such as zoning, public safety, etc. will remain as they are to be discussed by future leaders only as needed.
Secondly, while we would not have undertaken this work if we didn’t think structures were important for our success as a community. we realize that it is people who are essential to make any structure work. Updating our local government structure to be a more accountable, responsive and efficient one that works for all of us does not mean that our community priorities, our values or many community volunteers and municipal workers will change – they will not. What will change is our ability to implement these priorities. It is our hope that this new structure will spawn new interest by these individuals and others in serving the place we all call home.
Moving forward, we will be called the City of Framingham. Again, while the name is new, our values don’t change. A name alone doesn’t impact how our schools are prioritized, how we promote neighborhoods, or how we strive to preserve open space. As a group that has pushed for transparency, we embraced the title of “city” in part because we feel is the clearest representative of what our government structure will be, and we wanted to limit any confusion. However, there is another reason we chose to call Framingham a city. In today’s world it is often cities that represent growth and innovation; it is our cities that are centers of diversity and acceptance, and it is over citizens that are homes to institutions of higher learning that help us all grow. We are proud of Framingham and excited for the role it will continue to play as the hub of Metrowest.
Lastly, 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 community 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.
Overall, we believe there will be few added costs in the transition and it should be close to cost-neutral. For example, the new added salaries of Mayors and Chief Operating Officer are completely offset by the elimination of Town Manager and Assistant Town Manager salaries. While there will be small costs associated with switching our name from town to city, these will be gradually addressed over time.
At the same time, we believe the change from a town to city provides opportunities for cost savings. With a more transparent budget process and a more effective management structure, the Council and Mayor should be able to find opportunities to provide the same services in a more fiscally efficient ways. This result is evident when looking at Weymouth and Braintree and their relatively recent switch to city government. The average tax bill and annual increases have been lower in the recent past in those locales, which share many characteristics with Framingham, except they are government by a Council-Mayor form of government.