FRAMINGHAM, MA - This week Framingham residents witnessed a series of town government related issues that can't be described as anything other than a train wreck that was waiting to happen.
Days before the Special Fall Town Meeting, with seven articles she had sponsored or co-sponsored on the Warrant, and several others that had monetary implications, Framingham Chief Financial Officer, (CFO), Mary Ellen Kelley announced she had made a $1.5 million dollar mistake calculating the Town's operating budget.
While the majority of the Articles sponsored by the CFO had absolutely no supporting background material, a half dozen pages of extremely detailed figures were provided for a 1% COLA, (Cost Of Living Adjustment), pay raise for non-union municipal workers and department heads, followed by a one page "note" which explained how CFO Kelly would take $608k from local aid funding, and juggle off $287k from the snow and ice removal budget, $310k from liability insurance, $175k from health insurance, $135k from Tech Service and Social Service budgets to cover her $1.5 Million mistake.
At Town Meeting, fed up with Selectman and other town officials putting forward Articles with little or no background material -- or delivering them only moments before Town Meeting, Moderator Ed Noonan gave an impassioned address accusing officials of being disrespectful of Town Meeting Members and doing a disservice to the residents of Framingham, (for which Moderator Noonan received a standing ovation from Town Meeting).
Article 8 of the Special Fall Town Meeting, "Consideration of Acquisition of Conservation Restriction - Eastleigh Farm" which asked Town Meeting Members to vote to "transfer a sum of money" (which may or may not be $300k) into a special account to be used towards the purchase of a conservation restriction (which may or may not end up costing $5 Million or $8 Million or any other figure to be determined later), to an account slated for preservation of Eastleigh Farm, a 111.98 acre parcel at 1062 Edmands Road owned by talk radio personality Doug Stephan.
In an article by Danielle Ameden that appeared in the Metrowest Daily News, Town of Framingham's Director of Community & Economic Development Alison Steinfeld is quoted as saying "Eastleigh Farm is in imminent danger of foreclosure. By conserving it, the town would take over the operation when Stephan dies."
...neither part of Steinfeld's statement is true -- but that's not surprising as she has shown herself to be completely clueless in regards to nearly all things "economic" or "community" related in Framingham.
The land which is on the block for foreclosure auction is a 10 acre parcel on the opposite side of Edmands Rd. from Eastleigh Farm, and; the "Eastleigh Farm" Warrant Article is asking Town Meeting to vote to set aside money towards what will likely be a an "Agricultural Preservation Restriction" in accordance with the Massachusetts Agricultural Lands Preservation Committee (ALPC), under Chapter 61A laws -- not a conservation restriction and definitely not a purchase of the land itself. Eastleigh Farm is already listed as 61A property.
Upon Stephan's death, (which I'm sure Doug was not too happy to have discussed since he's only 64 years old), the land would likely pass to his children.
In-fact, nobody seems to have a clear understanding of what Article 8 involves.
Blame it on the board of Selectmen who sponsored the article and failed to heed the instruction printed on Page 1 of the Town Meeting Members Handbook -- where in section 5, it says "the article must include a description of the subject matter that provides the voters with substantial and intelligent notice of the nature of the business to be acted upon"
Further, on Pages 12 and 13 of the same handbook, in a section titled "Reports and Literature", section 6 reads, "Any board, committee, commission, or Town officer, or any sponsor of a warrant article may submit background material relating to an article to the Board of Selectmen at the time and in the manner specified by the Board of Selectmen for inclusion in the Warrant Background Material which shall be delivered to each Town Meeting Member not less than 14 days before the commencement of Town Meeting"
The above section references Framingham Bylaws, Article III, Sec. 1.8.1 -- which appears to need clarification, as it can be interpreted to mean only the background materials submitted with a Warrant Article need to be distributed with it, and leaves the door open for last minute materials not included with the Warrant article to be submitted up to and including the last minutes before Town Meeting convenes.
There is no reason Town Meeting should ever feel compelled to debate or vote on ANY issue where "substantial and intelligent" notice has not been given. The Board of Selectman can call a special Town Meeting any time 200 registered voters petition them to do so --- any pressing issue can be brought before Town Meeting in a matter of two weeks give or take a couple days to file paperwork, weekends, etc.
In other Town of Framingham Government news this week, a Framingham Police Officers Union (FPOU) Survey and Results allegedly taken by members of the FPOU was made public. The document, (which has not yet been confirmed as "genuine"), contains 19 pages of questions, voting results and comments by FPOU members critiquing Framingham Police Chief Steven Carl, other ranking police department personnel, police department staffing levels, disparity in officer and higher ranking police pay rates, traffic details, internal affairs personnel and policies and contains many negative comments and unsatisfactory votes by union members against the Chief, other superior officers and FPD departmental operations.
Last but not least, due to recent census figures, precincts included in Representative Tom Sannicandro's district tipped the scales -- Tom represents Ashland and part of Framingham. In the State's proposed redistricting plan Tom would keep all of Ashland intact by giving one precinct to Rep. Chris Walsh, and throwing Precinct 3 over to some other State Rep... in-effect, Saxonville which has historically be one of the most vocal and active advocates for the Town in political matters would become part of a voting block made up of Sudbury and Wayland residents.
Oh.. and one more item -- to finish out the week, The Framingham Board of Selectmen, (and the clueless Director of Economic & Community Development), think it's a good idea to skirt the open meeting law and meet with the developers of the Nobscot Shopping Center and exclude the public from any participation.
All in all, it was a very bad week of bad Town government in Framingham.