Wednesday, October 9, 2019
Questions and Answers on the Issues
Sharon Machlis Gartenberg is a District 2 resident who runs her own website to serve her neighborhood at www.District2Framingham.com. It is a great community service and she has reached out to the at large candidates with a questionnaire to post on her site. I thought it was a good questionnaire so I decided to post most of my answers here, in addition to being featured on her site. It hits many issue of the campaign in one relatively concise place!
Why are you running for the At-Large City Council seat?
I am running for re-election to the seat I currently hold. I believe I have a set of skills and abilities that are unique, and I can assist the council as we continue to transition to our new form of government. The first term has not been as smooth as I may have liked, but I believe two years is not enough time to commit. I am confident we will continue to evolve and grow to the benefit of our citizens and I want to be part of that.
What would you like to tell voters about your qualifications?
My qualifications are unique. I made a career out of public service. I spent over a decade in Framingham as Town Clerk and Town Manager. I then spent another decade as an assistant school superintendent and simultaneously as a middle school principal for a good chunk of that time. I understand government and how it works from the inside out. My role on the council is much different than my professional responsibilities, but I am able to tap the same knowledge base and apply it.
I have made a career of reshaping organizations to obtain efficiency and effectiveness. I have the experience to see the whole picture, but I am also able to bring unique and innovative ideas to a government. A small example is when I was Town Manager in 2004 video streaming was emerging. I envisioned a way of getting the TV video of meetings onto the internet both for people to access and also to create an archive. It is commonplace now, but it was very new in 2004 and we were one of the first to do it. It is was a good way of getting people involved in their government. I think this is an example of where I am able to have a vision that is centered on doing things the best way, not the way we have always done them.
What if any are your plans to keep in touch with residents in the district -- to seek their input and communicate your votes and other activities?
As a councilor-at-large this is a challenge whereas I serve the whole city. During my first term I have been very consistent sending out a newsletter via email every 6-8 weeks. My mailing list has grown, and I continue to add more people. I use the opportunity to offer insight and explanation into some of the issues. I write in an informal manner to really try to allow people to understand what the context is.
I advocated for the inclusion of all city council meeting backup material online. If people go to the City website, they can see all the materials for our meetings, every document we have is available to the public. We need to expand this to all boards and commissions in the City, so people have access.
Bottom line is I will always be an advocate for multiple communication platforms. I think it is important and inherent in our responsibility as councilors.
What do you think are the most important issues facing the city? What are you plans to address those?
I think there is no question maintaining Framingham as a reasonably affordable and economically diverse city is our biggest challenge. Our tax rate is higher than most and our water and sewer bills have doubled over the last decade. There must be more thought given to expenditure of funds and the ability of the average taxpayer to foot the bill.
I believe in recent years we have not done a good job of reviewing and analyzing the underlying budgets of the City. Instead we have added on where needs were determined to exist. There needs to be complete review of our operation to find out such things as where we can use technology more efficiently, what services we may be able to deliver via a less expensive alternative approach and do we need the service in 2020 and beyond at all? I firmly believe we can keep our valuable city services we all desire but do so at less of a cost.
Another critical issue is our hiring and retaining of employees. Human resource is the life blood of a municipal operation because it is so service orientated. We seem not particularly creative in recruiting and slow in the hiring process which impacts quality service and internal growth in the long term. Our compensation plans and policies are poorly documented resulting in inequity and inefficiency. This critical function must be looked at closer.
There are other issues to consider also. I would like us to pursue more green initiatives. We hired a sustainability person over a year ago now, and we need to see more results. We need to improve our website and make better use of technology. We need to be sensitive to our infrastructure needs, but not make it so that the costs are unaffordable.
These and other issues will be paramount for the next council. I believe I have the experience to offer insight and innovative ideas that will allow us to address some of these issues in a more effective manner than we have to date.
How is our city government working? What (if anything) do you believe needs improvement?
I believe on a day to day basis our city government works well. The city employs capable professionals in many areas who deliver the services of government to our residents.
I believe we can improve the functioning of the city overall, but taking a close look at operations, and determine what things we can do better and more efficiently. The city has not really done this in the first two years of its existence as a city. Our hope was that a city would be nimble and efficient in delivery of services, allowing for lower costs and better service. This is a goal that we must continue to pursue in a creative manner. There are many areas were demands have changed, and the way we provide service must too. Technology can go a long way to gaining efficiency. I will continue to advocate for such approaches.
What if any role does the City Council have to play in dealing with national political issues such as immigration and gun control?
In my opinion really very little. I respect the fact that many of us as elected people have opinions on these issues and want to advocate our positions on the issues. I think that is part of being a political activist and a leader. I know I am impassioned about the opioid epidemic and that is an issue that I am active on. But taking a position and advocating for these issues for the most part is complementary to our roles as a city councilor. I think it is very important that we do not lose focus on our key mission of governing the city.
Traffic and transportation infrastructure are among the most pressing issues facing eastern Massachusetts. Do you have any thoughts about city government's role in dealing with traffic, transit, and pedestrian/bicyclist issues in the District 2 area specifically and Framingham in general?
Traffic is a critical problem in this city and almost everywhere. Overall, we have essentially the same roads as we have 50 years ago in terms of capacity yet many many more cars using them. The basic problem aside, we can still do things to mitigate traffic and transportation challenges.
More reliable public transportation is critical. The MWRTA has made some good progress in this area. The commuter rail has to continue to improve to the point people are willing to rely on it. If it lets people stand outside on a zero-degree morning because the train is frozen up somewhere, that is not the type of reliability that encourages growth and mitigates problems, quite the opposite.
We have done a reasonable job maintaining our roads in Framingham in recent years. I think we can do a bit better in scheduling roadwork, so you do not hit three detours on one trip across town. We need to continue to invest at an affordable level in our roads.
As a runner, I deal with pedestrian issues all the time, and they are challenging. I worked hard to get a better pedestrian cycle at the dangerous Prospect St. intersection with Route 9, but there is still work to be done. Clearly the Nobscot Square project has to move forward one way or the other, in the near future. I will support local funding for that project if we are unable to obtain a grant. A redesign of Saxonville Square is on the agenda and needs to be done in a manner that sorts out that complex traffic pattern and makes it more pedestrian friendly.
Our charter provides for a Traffic Commission and I think the progress has been slower than I would have liked. I hope we can energize that group and actually form a stand-alone traffic and transportation department as was the original plan.