FRAMINGHAM — In a historic turning point for the community, residents voted on Tuesday for the town to become a city, passing a ballot measure by a slim margin to reshape local government.
With more than 11,000 votes cast, the city charter question came out ahead in the municipal election by only 105 votes. Unofficial numbers from town hall show 5,684 in favor of the vote, with 5,579 against, meaning the two sides were separated by only about 1 percentage point.
While a recount is likely, Tuesday’s vote was poised to become the first successful attempt at charter reform in a little more than a century.
The charter establishes an 11-member city council and strong mayor to lead city government, beginning in January 2018. It also changes Framingham’s political landscape, merging the existing 18 precincts into nine larger districts, creating a nine-member School Committee and abolishing Town Meeting, the Board of Selectmen and the position of town manager.
Making their case to voters over the last year, city proponents argued Framingham had outgrown the Town Meeting form of government and would operate more efficiently with a strong mayor as its chief executive. Many who backed the proposal said they hope to see more accountability.
John Dwyer and his wife cast ballots at the Memorial Building, with two children in tow. The 33-year-old, who moved to Framingham from Waltham four years ago, said he supports the charter push in hopes of speeding up Framingham’s decision-making process and ensuring the Southside is better represented in local government.
“Right now I think that there’s a lot of representation in the north of town, and I’m hoping that the change will bring about better representation throughout, quicker decision-making, and more people devoted solely to decision-making rather than the infrequent town meetings.”
Julie Gelardi, a Framingham middle school teacher and mother of two, said she hopes an elected mayor will provide better oversight of the school budget. With members elected from each district, the reconstituted School Committee also promises to better represent residents across town, and not just precincts on the North side of town — traditional bastions of strong voter turnout.
“I feel that a lot of the families are not being represented and their voice maybe isn’t being heard,” Gelardi said.
Support for the city charter by precinct
Tuesday’s vote marks the culmination of a nearly two-year effort by city proponents to change town government. The campaign was led by Framingham First, a committee of private citizens who in 2015 collected the 5,660 registered voter signatures needed to place a charter question on the ballot.
Residents last year overwhelmingly endorsed their proposal to create a Charter Commission, passing the measure in early 2016 by a whopping 75 percent. They also elected nine commissioners out of a field of 26 candidates to embark on a study of different types of municipal government and recommend one that fits the town best.
Dozens of public meetings followed, yielding a final report in January 2017 that sets the parameters under which Framingham would operate.
Celebrating the victory Tuesday at La Cantina restaurant in Framingham, Charter Commission member John Stefanini said he was encouraged by the broad community participation in Tuesday’s vote. Turnout topped 28 percent — believed to be the highest in recent memory for a town election.
“The challenge we had was convincing people in a very strong economy in a wonderful community to change the status quo,” Stefanini said, “and that’s hard, and I think that staying positive helped us because in the end, when facts become loose and everyone was spinning, it was the credibility that I think helped give people a sense of comfort in the product, the charter, that was being presented.”
If the results of Tuesday’s election stand, voters will pick the community’s first mayor and other elected leaders at a Nov. 7 election. Assistant Town Clerk Lisa Ferguson said members of the anti-charter ballot committee have indicated they are likely to seek a recount Wednesday.
“When it’s this close, the voters deserve certainty,” said Audrey Hall, a charter opponent. “If that means verifying the numbers, then that’s what we all should do because it is such a tremendous change and we owe it to the voters to do that.”
It's decision day in #Framingham: After months of debate, voters will decide whether the town should become a city https://t.co/z9weAY1TPB— Jim Haddadin (@JimHaddadin) April 4, 2017
Here's the text of the charter ballot question. #framcharter pic.twitter.com/CISsGYaUl8— Jim Haddadin (@JimHaddadin) April 4, 2017
One big ? today: Will rain lower turnout? Some think anti-charter side + Town Meeting diehards benefit from slow day at polls #framcharter— Jim Haddadin (@JimHaddadin) April 4, 2017
Voters aren't beating down the doors at the Memorial Building. 40 votes cast in Pct.12 as of 8:45; par for town election #framcharter— Jim Haddadin (@JimHaddadin) April 4, 2017
Turnout aside, there's huge interest in the outcome of today's charter vote, which has dominated town politics since 2015. #framcharter— Jim Haddadin (@JimHaddadin) April 4, 2017
Many are eager for the debate to end. One woman posted this to the FramGov listserv yesterday w/ subject line "going crazy!" #framcharter pic.twitter.com/uMP3jpRdqo— Jim Haddadin (@JimHaddadin) April 4, 2017
With 4.25 hours to go, turnout is over 18% at Potter Road School/Precinct 2, typically an active site. #framcharter pic.twitter.com/dFwq9ZlS6K— Jim Haddadin (@JimHaddadin) April 4, 2017
Shaping up to be a squeaker in Framingham. Unofficial results trickling in for charter vote: P12(187 yes/220 no); P14(132/114) #framcharter— Jim Haddadin (@JimHaddadin) April 5, 2017
With 28% turnout, Framingham passes city charter by 105(!) votes, 50.2% yes to 49.2% no pic.twitter.com/4HZ237a5Hl— Jim Haddadin (@JimHaddadin) April 5, 2017