AN INSIDE LOOK - Commentary and opinions on local politics and life in general in Southeastern Massachusetts! Featuring the writings of Bill Gouveia, newspaper columnist for the Sun Chronicle and local cable TV talk show host. Feel free to read, comment and enjoy!
Friday, March 3, 2017
Family's Move Gets Columnist Thinking...
GOUVEIA: Why Franklin's form of government works
BY BILL GOUVEIA FOR THE SUN CHRONICLE
My oldest son and his family are moving from my hometown of Norton, where he and both his parents grew up and went to school. My oldest grandson Will (did I mention his name is William?) will be leaving the local school system after almost four years. The consecutive generations of Gouveia family members graduating from Norton Public Schools will end at three.
For me, that's the bad news.
The good news is they aren't going far. They bought a nice house in Franklin, about a half-hour drive from our home (they haven't moved yet, and I've already timed it). Much as I hate to admit it, it's a good move for their family. But some of the reasons why make me a bit sad for Norton and some of our other surrounding communities.
Franklin is not a city, but is significantly larger than most of the Sun Chronicle towns. Locally, only the City of Attleboro is larger than Franklin's more than 30,000 residents.
It has a college located within its borders. It has commuter rail, is close to Interstate 495 and contains a nice mix of industrial/commercial/residential property. It has been rated by some prestigious publications as one of the better places to live, as well as one of the safest.
Most importantly for my son and daughter-in-law, it has very highly rated schools. It also has a record of supporting education, as indicated by the new high school opened in 2014 at a cost of more than $100 million. Property taxes compare pretty favorably with surrounding communities, making it a desirable and practical choice for families of all sizes.
And, as an admitted devotee of local government and politics, I could not help but notice one more enticing and interesting thing about Franklin, as opposed to the towns closer to my area: Franklin has a town council/town administrator form of government, rather than a town meeting/board of selectmen format.
This is something I have been pushing for in my hometown and other communities for many, many years now. And while Franklin is hardly free from political turmoil and still has the usual municipal problems, it stands as a pretty good example of how this type of government can be effective and efficient.
For those unfamiliar (and judging by the forms of government around here, that is not an unsubstantial number), the council form of government is somewhat similar to a city format, while avoiding the consolidation of power into a mayor's position. It eliminates both the town meeting legislative body and the selectmen policy-making board.
Instead, there is a nine-member town council elected to two-year terms. They serve as the legislative body and perform many of the functions of both town meeting and selectmen. In addition, they have a town administrator hired by the council, and with duties similar to the town administrator/manager positions in our local towns.
This does somewhat consolidate political power, but also centralizes authority and gives voters and citizens a more organized, stable government.
It eliminates the need for residents to turn out for open town meetings, where they must sit through hours of debates in order to vote on budgets they have probably never studied. It takes the place of representative town meetings like the one in North Attleboro, where there are always more openings than candidates to fill them.
This format has hardly made Franklin any less democratic or open to the people. Voters have representatives they can go to when they need help or wish to change something, and have the opportunity to vote them out every two years if they don't like what they do.
And the good schools, solid industrial base, safe neighborhoods and strong commercial businesses that have been created and maintained are at least somewhat a testament to a governmental system that has increased efficiency without devaluing citizen participation.
According to a public administration publication, more than 40 percent of municipal governments across the country with populations over 2,500 use a similar system. That's far more than use either open or representative town meeting.
That doesn't make all those municipalities right. But it certainly doesn't make them wrong, either.
Congratulations to Aaron, MJ, Will, Sammy and Tommy. Franklin just got even better.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.