Last night I attended one of the many public comment hearings being hosted by the Framingham Charter Change Commission. If what I heard said, by the two sides, is any indication of the entire debate, it’s no contest : the change proponents win.
At the Joseph P. Keefe Technical School, on Winter Street hard by Framingham’s commuter rail line, about 75 people gathered to listen to the Charter Commission’s presentation and then to ask questions. There were many. Two hours into the meeting — at which pointy I left, having heard enough to write this story — questioners were still lining up. I would be surprised if this isn’t how it is at every hearing the Commission schedules.
Of the several questions that were asked during my two hours of witness, the most interesting questioned the effectiveness of the present town meeting, town manager arrangement and its inability to respond efficiently to applications for development, or even for simple budget proposals. For these, the Commission’s sole dissenter, Teri Banerjee, had no answer. In particular, to a question posed by Mike Gatlin, wh0 directs Framingham’s Economic Development group, Banerjee fumbled badly even to frame any sort of response. The lack of preparation said it all.
About one quarter of the attendees represented the “Not This Charter” opposition. If those whom I saw are a fair sample, it’s basically current town meeting members — all of whom wi, lose their positions — many of them elderly in the wrong sort of way. It’s no crime to be old — heck, I am old — but it’s a grave lack to be unready, and evidently unable to grasp that things aren’t what they were in the 1950s (a decade explicitly referred to by one town meeting member, from precinct 7, who responded to discussion of imbalance in the location of Framingham’s schools by citing that in the 1950s, those location s were thought correct). I’m sorry, but that level of answer won’t do.
What was this about ? It turns out that three quarters of Framingham’s schools are located north of Route 9 — the big highway which more or less divides the town in half — while three quarters of the actual students come from south of Route 9. For solving this imbalance, the charter opponents had no answer other than the 1950 argument I have mentioned.
Much of the stated opposition to making Framingham a city, with a much smaller City Council — eleven members, not 215 town meeting members, 12 for each of 18 precincts — reminded me of arguments made by opponents of ratifying the United States Constitution; and made for much the same reasons : fear of big money, of powerful offices, of major economic change and efficiency. Odd it felt, to hear these 230 year old arguments made today, in all seriousness. What reasonable objection can be made for creating a government, for a community of at least 70,000 people, that makes civic development easier, more effective, and more worth pursuing politically as well as economically ?
Here, a brief digression seems in order :
Missing at this hearing was even one person from Framingham’s large Brazilian community. The town is at least 25 percent Brazilian, including almost the emntgi9rety of its downtown, but there isn’t one Brazilian on the charter commission and I saw none at the hearing. Will it be different at the upcoming hearing on the “South Side:” at the Woodrow Wilson School ? Fact : not one of Framingham’s current elected officials is Brazilian. Not one. (Indeed, from what i am t,old, most come from just two — 2– of the town’s 18 precincts.)
That will change under thew charter. The two “South Side: city council seats, at the very least, will surely attract ambitious Brazilian-Framingham candidates; maybe a few might even find their way the at large seats, and, eventually, the Mayor position. This is how it’s done in our democracy.Give the voters offices worth running for, and they will seek them vigorously.
Now back to my main argument:
Three days ago I wrote my first argument in support of the charter change, and I adduced many, many reasons why I find it a very good change. last night’s hearing confirmed my opinion. Indeed, every one of the arguments brought forth against the change by its opponents, I find to be a positive argument why that change should take place. Add to them the palpable lack of preparation or argument demonstrated last night by the opposition, in contrast to the remarkable conviction and profound preparation shown by the charter Commission — John Stefanini and Dennis Giombetti in particular.
Chance really does favor the prepared mind. In Framingham, it should favor the prepared argument.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere