March 23, 2006

Government Structure, and Community

I've got a column in today's MetroWest Daily News arguing that Framingham needs a change in its structure of government. While I admire most of those now serving in representative Town Meeting, I believe the town has reached that un-sweet spot where precincts are too large to be "neighborhoods" where everyone knows everyone else, but way too small to each have their own media outlets that can cover representative activities and allow voters to easily stay informed of what their reps are doing.

In fact, with a dozen reps per precinct, almost no recorded Town Meeting votes and the vast majority of precincts having no contested races on election day, the current government structure provides little accountability to the voters. The common refrain -- if you don't like it, you can run for Town Meeting yourself -- is disingenuous. Not everyone has the time, energy, ability, inclination or interest for the very intense commitment that is being an elected representative. People have family obligations and/or work obligations. Some take classes, or travel, or work in the evenings, or have child-care issues. Or frankly don't want to be in politics. Framingham Town Meeting is a lengthy and time-consuming affair. Those Town Meeting reps who are responsive to their precincts do so because they choose to and want to, but do so in spite of the structure of government, not because the structure demands it.

Framingham is a large, complex community facing issues that need full-time attention. I don't think a part-time legislative body comprised of hundreds of individuals is the best answer. Government structure isn't the only reason why so many nearby communities are ahead of Framingham in terms of downtown revitalization, but I do think it's a factor.


  1. Town Meeting isn't very time consuming, as they usually only meet a couple of times a year, and the theory that they represent their neighbors opinions sounds logical, but in reality, isn't usually the case. Besides, town meeting usually rubber stamps whatever the Fincom wants anyway. So while it would appear a great way to make a statement, in reality, for many town meeting members, it's a social thing, and a way to boost one's ego.
    As for downtown revitalization, Natick's business mix is pretty lame. Downtown Hudson has a better variety of small retailers than Natick does. And it's vintage character shows a respect for the past too. Natick lost that about 20 years ago.

  2. Town Meeting in Natick may not be very time consuming, but Town Meeting in Framingham drags on for weeks.

  3. I'll bet it's an interesting few weeks of entertaining speeches. Natick gets it's share, but the votes always seem to satisfy the insiders. Every time it appears to swing against them, someone manages to amend an amendment, to the point where the old-timers are so confused, and think a yes means no, and they just cave in and vote the way the insiders wanted them to.

  4. I just wanted congratulate you on your article. I read it today ( in the process of relocating to greener pastures) I belive you hit the nail on the head.