Political ramifications part II

Political ramifications part II Thursday, November 8, 2008
Rob Haneisen 508-626-3882 Framingham Tab
Framingham - Last week, I wrote about the possible political ramifications of South Middlesex Opportunity Council filing a federal civil liberties and fair housing lawsuit against the town, several officials and two local residents.

My point was that the SMOC lawsuit may create an environment ripe for political momentum from those who have fought SMOC on expansion plans and from those who want to see SMOC reduce its programs in town.

My reasoning was that given the outrage and insult some people in town felt over the lawsuit it would empower SMOC opponents.  It would also seem to make sense that those who were truly in the middle of this battle might side with the defendants because of the perception that SMOC was trying to squash disagreement and discussion — albeit critical and sometimes uncivil discussion — about the agency, its programs and its clients.

But what about the flip side of that argument?

Though I received many responses to the column agreeing with my first scenario, a few of you wondered if instead it would lead to a backlash against those who have essentially put the town in the crosshairs of a very expensive lawsuit.

It's an argument worth considering.

Instead of candidates for next year's Board of Selectmen race running on a platform of "I'll defend our rights and take on SMOC," will we see successful candidates trumpeting their ability to talk to SMOC and work to resolve an amicable solution?

During a meeting with editors of the MetroWest Daily News this week, SMOC Director of Planning Gerard Desilets said the lines of communication between town officials and SMOC had grown silent before the suit was filed.

But both Desilets and SMOC Executive Director James Cuddy said they hope to re-open those lines of communication, wonder why town officials haven't contacted them since the lawsuit, and believe they can still go about SMOC's day to day business in the town unaffected by the suit fallout.

The chronological line of thinking would appear to be thus: Communication halted — file lawsuit — hope communication resumes.

Maybe that's how things work and maybe that speaks as to how bad things were and continue to be between the human service agency and the town.  But after filing the lawsuit, will town officials and other defendants be able to sit down with SMOC during mediation or even something informal? I'd bet on not any time soon.

But back to the flip side of ramifications.

Could a moderate candidate run a campaign based on the acknowledgement that SMOC had issues in town but the best way for the two entities (SMOC and the town) to co-exist is to have a working relationship with open lines of communication?

I don't know.

Could that same candidate then cast blame on this whole matter on the defendants? It's a dicey proposition because it would acknowledge that SMOC is right, at least in some part, and I'm not sure someone could pull that off now given the political climate in town.

The fact is, SMOC hasn't really changed their way of business or what they do in any significant way in the past five years.  What has changed is the town leadership and the opinions voiced by those who live here.  I think that's safe to say without saying who's right and who's wrong.  Those who oppose SMOC would say they had simply reached a point of "Enough's enough."

For someone to take the opposite line would be to say that SMOC's purpose is not always welcome but the service is vital to the survival of many who live in town and it is a societal problem we all must address.  The fact that much of that burden falls on Framingham would seem unfair — and is — but is logical for many reasons I've discussed here before.

Even Desilets and Cuddy would agree that nobody necessarily wants a home for recovering drug addicts next door, but it's a program and service that must go somewhere if we are to acknowledge that helping the disabled is a priority.

Send comments to: hjw2001@gmail.com