Brian Sullivan's Comments on FramGov March 21, 2016
Brian Sullivan FramGov
I was involved a few years back at the last attempt at gathering signatures for the Charter Commission (back in the good old days when you didn't pay people to get them). Back then it just seemed like commonsense to push for a replacement of Town Meeting. I had done my 3 years in Town Meeting and had been on at least 4 committees. And yes at times it was very dysfunctional - at times it felt like you were taking part in an actual Seinfeld episode.

Personally I had seen (in no particular order):

  1. People vote on their own (or their relatives) pay without abstaining
  2. People come in to vote for one item important to them and walk out
  3. People sleeping during meetings (was never sure if the people were getting their representation in those ones.)
  4. People bickering over the most inane things that were completely irrelevant to the topics being discussed
  5. A Department head push for his project with the old 'Life or Death' situation, and when asked why his department created the life and death situation in the first place, immediately backed off of the Life or Death need
  6. A standing committee who was presented with a multi-million dollar presentation skip any discussion and start putting on their coats while doing a quick vote
  7. A School Committee member brazenly warn (I held back using a different word) that they would use their rallying of the troops (i.e. playing the kiddie card) when discussion whether the Town/School percentage split should be changed
  8. A department head who had free access to 6 professionals in her field (probably having more combined experience than her entire department) - treat the group as a nuisance (imagine having free access to 6 doctors, lawyers, IT professionals, etc. and just blowing that resource off!)
  9. How TM could sometimes be easily confused when someone tossed in a proverbial smoke bomb into the discussion - resulting in the old 'Refer Back to Sponsor' vote
  10. And one of my personal favorites: being lied to by a Town employee (in writing to boot!) - I always thought this one should be a considered a fireable offense.

That's just a quick 10 off the top of my head and I was there for only 3 years. Imagine the stories of the old timers!

And also, let's not forget some of the more public gems of late:

  1. The fiasco with the Building inspector - where we paid him $100,000 for a year to not work after being reported on by the I-TEAM. Followed up with the DA reporting that his behavior was well known to subordinates and superiors.
  2. A teacher's union leader who pushed for the targeting of School Committee member's families during contract negotiations
  3. The Housing authority director who was paid $140,000 a year and was investigated for taking laptops and cell phones before he resigned
  4. The theft of money from the police's evidence room.
And the list seems to go on and on..

And before someone starts condemning me for lumping every Town meeting member, committee member, town employee into the same pot - don't. There are a lot of people who work tirelessly for the good of Framingham, but we obviously have some issues with our current system. So the Charter Commission should be an easy choice. Right? I'm not so sure.

Looking back after the last time we tried to get a Charter Commission going I realized that our issues really weren't caused by the format of the government we had - they were mainly caused by personalities. And those personalities are most likely sticking around in a new form of government perhaps giving those personalities even more power. So even though our current system is somewhat inefficient and clumsy it does one very IMPORTANT thing very well - it DILUTES the power.

Would a different power structure be better? Let's just look at the public gems above. How was the Building Inspector issue resolved? A private citizen calling the TV station. How was the Housing Authority issue picked up? Through a lower level employee. How was the union leader targeting School Committee Members' families resolved - public outrage I think would be a good guess. There was no magical government entity that fixed these issues - it was regular people.

This time around with the Charter Commission attempt seems very different to me. It feels almost like something is being shoved down my throat. The taking of large sums of money (possibly from people who may be doing business before the Town), paying people to get signatures, and now the infamous 'Draft letter'. This latest process has really given me pause and I think I would prefer to keep the devil I know versus the possibility of a devil I don't know and so I will NOT vote in favor of the Charter Commission at this time. For the moment, I believe it is Framingham's best interest to continue diluting the power and keep what we have (warts and all) - allowing minor changes through the processes we have now.

Brian Sullivan

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