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Citizens for Limited Taxation

Voters to mull electing manager
Plan would change appointed town job
Thursday, March 11, 2004
Eun Lee Koh 508-820-4238. Boston Globe
Town Meeting will be asked to consider a proposal next month that would fundamentally restructure Framingham government by changing the town manager position from an appointed to an elected post.

Doug Freeman, sponsor of the article and Town Meeting chairman of Precinct 11, said the change would make future town managers -- who are responsible for the town's day-to-day operations, crafting the budget, and carrying out policies set by selectmen and Town Meeting -- directly accountable to the voting public, instead of to the Board of Selectmen.

In approving the change, Town Meeting members would be voting to amend the Town Manager Act of 1996, which made a number of sweeping administrative changes, one of which defined the position of town manager as a post appointed and evaluated by the Board of Selectmen.

Under the proposal, the town manager would be elected by voters to three-year terms and would essentially act as Framingham's mayor.  Town Meeting would continue to set the town's budget and shape town bylaws, and selectmen would continue setting townwide policy.

"Right now, if any member of the public wants to bring about change, they have to go through the Board of Selectmen," Freeman said.  "This would put the power directly in the hands of the people."

The change would ultimately require the approval of the state Legislature.

Some town officials, including current Town Manager George P. King Jr., said the change could prove detrimental to a form of government that already places a lot of power in the hands of voters through representative Town Meeting.  And they say they fear the change could damage the relationship between the town manager and Board of Selectmen, who work closely together to set municipal budgets and policies.

Selectwoman Esther Hopkins said the town manager position is a professional post that requires managerial, financial, and municipal experience.  Making the position an elected post open only to residents of Framingham, she said, would significantly narrow the pool.

"The town manager is hired for ability," Hopkins said.  "If the most popular person with name recognition was elected, regardless of experience, this would put the town in a dreadful position."

King said he believes he faces more scrutiny under the current form of government than if his position was elected.

"If people want a mayor, I would respect that, but don't call it a town manager," King said.  ". . . I am accountable every day to the collective group of five people.  If I step out the line, I have to answer to them.  If it was an elected position, I could step out of line the day after I'm elected, but I don't have to answer to anyone for three years.  It's less accountable than people think."

Freeman, a longtime proponent of strengthening the town's executive, proposed in 1997 changing Framingham's form of government from a town to a city.  He said he understood the dynamics of government would change, but he felt that Framingham should have a discussion on whether to keep its structure.

"Many people already feel that the town manger's job is equivalent to [that of] many mayors," he said.  "All this does is affirm that.  I think it's an important discussion to have."

Town Meeting begins April 27.

Selectwoman Ginger Esty said she believes the proposal emerged out of growing discontent with the way the Board of Selectmen has handled King's contract.

King was hired in 1999 under a three-year contract, which was to expire in April 2002.  But in July 2000 -- and every year since -- the selectmen have amended his contract by adding a year.  While the board has said the extensions have provided stability, some residents have criticized the selectmen's decision, saying it has prevented King from undergoing a full review of his performance and renegotiation of his contract.

"This is one of the many voices of dismay over how it's happening," said Esty, the lone selectman who abstained from the vote last fall to extend King's contract.  "It will be up to Town Meeting to vote for it, if they think it's smart.  Maybe it's a way of sending a message to the selectmen."

Freeman denied that the contract extensions for King influenced his decision to sponsor the article.  "This is talking about the position of town manager and not the person filling it," Freeman said.

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