Long term fallout from lawsuit

Long term fallout from lawsuit Thursday, November 1, 2007
Rob Haneisen Framingham Tab
Framingham - The rumblings of the bomb South Middlesex Opportunity Council dropped on Framingham last week are still being felt and people should not expect that tremor to fade into the background any time soon.

Already, one Town Meeting member is asking town officials to resign over the matter.

More importantly, more than 500 people thus far have signed a petition to call for a Special Town Meeting to increase the town's legal budget in anticipation of huge expenses to fight the lawsuit in federal court.  Town Counsel Chris Petrini said it may cost $500,000 to defend the town.  That's not counting any personal expenditure made by private citizens named in the suit to defend themselves.

There's also been some grumbling about how some officials were served with legal papers.  Some were served at Town Meeting last week which has led to much hyperbole.

While some view the serving of legal process inside the sacred realm of Town Meeting as a violation of everything pure and good, I'm not quite on that boat.  People get served with legal process at their place of employment all the time and I'm sure the constable serving the papers realized he or she could be more efficient by doing a bunch in one location.  Members of Congress may have this protection but Town Meeting is a little bit further down the totem pole.

Some might say it would have a chilling effect on the wheels of democracy but life does not stop inside Nevins Hall when Town Meeting is in session.  Is this any worse than Town Meeting being whisked along at a brisk pace because there was a World Series game that night?

The real outrage for some is that the lawsuit happened in the first place so I would expect the location where people were served to be no big deal eventually if not already.

What won't die down anytime soon is the political ramifications of the lawsuit.  Though town elections are about six months away I can see the lawsuit having a major influence on who runs and who wins.

Let's look at the Board of Selectmen's race.  John Stasik and Dennis Giombetti are up for re-election.  The word on the street is that Stasik won't run for re-election.  And since it sometimes appears that Dennis Giombetti, not Julian Suso, runs the town it's a safe bet he's going to run for re-election.  This opens the door that Ginger Esty has been pounding on for years: control of the Board of Selectmen.

Esty has long been a conservative voice defending neighborhoods on the board and an opponent of social services, illegal immigration and other issues.

But she's never had the power.  She has a ready ally in Jason Smith who was elected in part because he was a Friend of Ginger (FOG).  (FOG doesn't exist, I'm making it up.  But if someone wants to start a PAC with this name, have at it) Some people might say that Giombetti is an Esty ally but he's difficult to nail on this.  At the least, he's a sympathizer.

Charlie Sisitsky has always been the thorn in Ginger's side but with Katie Murphy getting voted off the board and now with Stasik possibly leaving, he'll be one lonely man.

The lawsuit will do at least one if not both of the following two things.

First it will prevent some quality, progressive-minded candidates from stepping forward and running because that don't want to face the firestorm of questioning about their position on SMOC and the lawsuit and social services in town.  Anything less than condemnation of social services will get a candidate branded soft on SMOC.

And secondly, the lawsuit provides a platform conducive for more conservative candidates who want to keep up the fight against social service expansion, PILOT programs, and fighting illegal immigration.  It sets up an environment where candidates will sound the battle cry to protect the homeland (in this Framingham).

Depending on how long the lawsuit lasts, this could extend into the following year's town elections.

Regardless of where you fall on the argument about social services in Framingham, the lawsuit changed the local political landscape for the near and long term.

I think there was the beginnings of some worthy, philosophical and practical conversations about the siting of group homes in neighborhoods, the effect of the density of social services on a community and a community's role in taking care of the less fortunate.  Some critics had some despicable things to say but others had valid points that warranted answers.

But the lawsuit put a major kink in progress.  It's a poisoned well that no one will drink from for a long time.

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