Brendan Fitzpatrick

December 20, 2023

Charter Commission Explores Potential Changes to City Council, School Committee

Photo courtesy of John Phelan

FRAMINGHAM - The Framingham Charter Review Committee’s meeting on Monday, December 18 featured discussions on the potential changes to the composition of the City Council and School Committee.

The Charter Review Committee is mandated to be formed every year that ends in a 3. Their task is to review the Framingham Home Rule Charter and submit their recommendations for changes to the City Council following a public hearing. Monday’s meeting was dedicated to Article II and Article IV, which their agenda noted as the items that “might be the most substantial possible changes” to the city charter.

Multiple members of the Charter Committee expressed their approval of having the process of filling vacancies in the School Committee be done through a special election, similar to how it would be done in the City Council. Though concerns regarding the cost of a special election and low turnout were raised, School Committee member Adam Freudberg of District 4 said he and other school officials still voted unanimously in favor of a recommendation for the change with multiple factors in mind. Every Charter Commission member present, either in-person or via Zoom, voted in favor of having the drafter of the provision change the vacant filling process for the School Committee to reflect the one outlined in their report to charter officials.

Chair of the Charter Committee Adam Blumer sent a memo to his colleagues prior to Monday’s meeting touching upon a number of topics, especially the matter of changing term lengths for City Council and School Committee members as well as staggering their election years. Blumer pointed out that if the city moves to 3-year terms, then municipal elections would not only have to be held on odd and even numbered years, but they would also have to be moved to the spring time due to Massachusetts’ tendency to forbid local elections being held alongside state elections.

“This may sound like I’m editorializing in favor or against one position; I’m just trying to clarify…It’s important to know that the idea of it seems simple, but the implementation is, actually, quite complex,” Blumer said.

The reception from the rest of the committee to staggering election years and changing term limits was mixed, with nine of the 10 voting members opting against any draft changes related to the two topics; Andy Limeri was the sole dissenting vote on that motion.

The matter of the size and makeup of the City Council was one that saw far less consensus among the Charter Commission. While members were appreciative of the work put in by at-large members of the City Council, those like Jonna Rubin were not in favor of increasing the number of seats beyond the current 11.

“The city of Boston only has 13 councilors,” Rubin explained.

“We’re Framingham; do we need 15? If the city of Boston can do it with 13, 15 is insane.”

Speaking on her own behalf on Monday, District 7 City Councilor Leora Mallach said that although she is not in favor of an even number of councilors—which could lead to tied votes—she is fine with a slight increase to the number of seats on the City Council as a way to add additional aid.

“It is a tremendous amount of work in terms of the expectations, I think, that residents have of City Councilors,” Mallach continued.

“So, I think more councilors could really be helpful.”

The Charter Review Committee explored the possibility of adding regional city councilors as well. They would represent multiple districts, but would not serve in an at-large capacity.

After an extensive conversation, the committee eventually voted against a draft increasing the number of at-large councilors from two to four—which would bring the City Council up to 13 seats—by a 7-3 vote. They did pass a motion to get more feedback on multiple different plans for the City Council by sending out information to the public by a 9-1 vote. Four proposals for the composition of the group were mentioned: making no changes, adding three regional councilors, adding three regional and one at-large councilors, and adding four at-large councilors.

Blumer asked committee members to consider asking the City Council for “a small extension to our timeline for our work,” per his memo. He reasoned that he didn’t want the work on the charter to interrupt budget discussions in the spring. Blumer said the group should ensure there’s closer to a full year’s worth of work put into the project, adding that moving any charter-related election to the early days of 2025 as to avoid the topic being drowned out by federal and state elections next fall would make sense. His colleagues agreed unanimously, as they approved a motion to request that the deadline to present their recommendations to the City Council be moved from May 1 to June 30.

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