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Kramer looks back on decades of public service, forward to state race

by | May 13, 2024 | Featured: News, News

Muriel Kramer

Muriel Kramer, shown at the May 6 Annual Town Meeting, has served on town boards for almost 20 years, capped by her stint as Select Board chair that ends this month. PHOTO/JOHN CARDILLO

Outgoing Select Board chair Muriel Kramer is no stranger to local politics. As she moves forward as a candidate in the Governor’s Council race, she reflected on her decades of public service in town and future plans in a recent interview with the Independent.

“I started out being interested in the process because I was a reporter for the Hopkinton Independent years ago,” Kramer said. “I covered the Planning Board most often when I started, and that’s how I learned.”

She said she had no idea at that time that she would start her political career on the Planning Board about 17 years ago. She also served on the Board of Appeals and the Board of Selectmen.

The issue that prompted Kramer to switch gears involved the construction of the E.L. Harvey recycling center in Westborough on a landfill she said had been improperly capped.

“We discovered that it had not been appropriately monitored for its impact on the groundwater around it,” she explained. “It’s not that far from the town water fields. “

She unsuccessfully lobbied the Board of Selectmen to fund an environmental attorney for the Health Department to assess the situation. She called the decision “infuriating, short-sighted and irresponsible.”

One positive from the situation, she added, was that the Board of Appeals incorporated language into the facility’s permitting process calling for monitoring. Another was that she and others advocated for two Hopkinton houses across the street from the plant to get access to Westborough’s water supply.

Another “big highlight” from Kramer’s early service on the Select Board, as well as one of her biggest challenges, was the town purchase of the Whitehall property for conservation.

“It was very controversial at the time, and I was new to politics,” she said. “Knowing that the property will stay in its natural state for the future generations to come is a really warm and fabulous memory.”

At the time, however, she was “deeply challenged” by the situation. The town was sued over the purchase by some residents, including some of her friends.

“The reason it was more challenging was that I took it personally,” she explained. “When people are aggrieved, they have very few options. Suing is one of the only available options. That helped me depersonalize it.”

Recent controversies troubling

Kramer has been no stranger to controversy. In recent months, she angered some by halting the promotion of two police officers for months because the Select Board, the hiring authority, had not been involved in the review process.

In February, she was the lone vote in support of retaining embattled former Hopkinton Police Sgt. Tim Brennan. He was fired for violating HPD policy by not reporting allegations of child rape made against his former colleague, former Deputy Chief John “Jay” Porter, to Chief Joseph Bennett. Porter pleaded not guilty to three charges of child rape in May 2023.

She recently blasted Bennett for what she called his lack of leadership as chief during this contentious time for the department.

“Being the lone vote or being the first person to speak out is never easy,” said Kramer. “But I’d be remiss not to say that it was challenging for everybody. The Select Board members are all smart, invested, dedicated people — people that I’m proud to serve with — even and maybe especially when we don’t agree, to be honest.”

The vote for Brennan’s termination infuriated some residents, who protested and started a petition for a recall election to replace all Select Board members. Because Kramer and member Irfan Nasrullah are not running for reelection, a recall would not impact them.

While she praised the residents for their advocacy, Kramer said she wished they had comported themselves in a more respectful way.

“I know that emotions are high, and I get it,” Kramer stressed. “But at the end of the day, we want to live in a place where people can raise their voices, sound the alarm, be passionate and disagree. Even if it isn’t super agreeable as it plays out, that’s still what it means to live in this incredible United States of America.”

She stressed that people “should take steps to take care of themselves” during this tumultuous time in Hopkinton and seek out resources.

At the Feb. 27 Select Board meeting, Youth & Family Services Director Dawn Alcott announced the creation of a resource website.

Kramer noted that “it can take decades” to come to terms with a sexual assault — if the survivor can overcome it.

Said Kramer: “It’s OK to struggle with this. We’re all struggling with it.”

Other highlights memorable

Kramer was the chair of the Board of Selectmen when the town charter was passed.

“We were trying to transition from sort of a kitchen countertop organizational strategy for government to a more professional form of government,” she said. “Then we hired our first town manager. It was pretty wonderful to be a part of.”

She advocated for a recall provision to be included in the town charter in case of “really big, catastrophic failures in performance.”

“It shouldn’t be easy to do, and it’s disruptive,” she explained. “But it’s a check and balance in the system.”

The growth of the Legacy Farms community and the diversity it has brought to Hopkinton is something of which Kramer is proud.

“We knew we were designing a different kind of housing development that was trying to balance a lot of competing needs for the town,” she explained. “We needed to make sure that it was revenue positive for the town. What we didn’t know was that the development would contribute to a diverse town in very meaningful ways. And that’s kind of fabulous.”

New faces encouraged to serve

Despite the challenging political climate, Kramer said running for office “is the best way to affect change.”

“It does feel like there’s a real rhythm of investment here, and there’s certainly some passionate engagement at times,” she said. “A lot of really important work happens in Hopkinton because people devote their time and talents to the work of town government.”

Kramer said she “would love to talk to people who want to be involved” and encouraged potential candidates to seek the advice of people on boards or committees of interest.

“I think we will see some people who are motivated to run,” said Kramer. “And we will probably never know it, but there are probably people who might have run and are thinking, ‘Not at this time.’ That is completely legitimate, and I get it. But it is also too bad.”

Her advice to candidates is to not take issues personally.

Future goals at state level

“I’m super excited to be running for Governor’s Council,” said Kramer. “The Governor’s Council flies under the radar, but it’s an important position.”

In addition to judicial appointments, the Governor’s Council has purview over parole board appointees, sentence commutations and pardons.

Kramer said she has been thinking of running “for a long time” and “it would be an incredible fit,” for her, given her background in social justice advocacy. The Governor’s Council has shifted its focus under the Healey administration “toward a more social justice, treatment-oriented, rehabilitation-focused way.”

“I’ve loved my time in Hopkinton,” she said. “But I am really excited about next steps with the Governor’s Council, if that turns out to be possible for me.”

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