SMOC plan may end up in court, Town Meeting to vote on lawyer October 20, 2005
Lisa Kocian 508-820-4231 Globe West
Framingham Town Meeting members will decide whether to retain an attorney in case a legal battle erupts between the town and a social service agency that wants to open a new home for recovering substance abusers and their families.

In August, Town Meeting approved a change to zoning bylaws that for the first time would require social service programs to undergo Planning Board review.

Officials at the South Middlesex Opportunity Council Inc., which wants to open the new program on Winter Street, blasted the change, saying it discriminates against recovering drug and alcohol abusers, who are protected under federal law as people with disabilities. Such programs have traditionally been exempt under state law from many zoning restrictions.

"The town has to be ready," said Robert Snider, the Town Meeting member who sponsored a warrant article calling for the hiring of the attorney.  Snider, a lawyer, represents the precinct where the Winter Street program would be located.  The Town Meeting begins next Wednesday.

The attorney general's office is reviewing the bylaw, which cannot go into effect without its approval.  If it is approved, SMOC officials have said they could fight back.

James T. Cuddy, the SMOC executive director, said last month that his organization would consider filing a complaint against the town through the federal courts or the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  He did not return calls this week seeking comment.

Snider said he was responding to what he sees as a legal threat from SMOC.   Although he doesn't know how much money Town Meeting members would be asked to approve for legal help, he estimated it would take roughly a "couple hundred thousand."

Some SMOC programs do a lot of good, said Snider, but residents, particularly around Winter Street, are arguing that Framingham is supporting more than its fair share of social services compared with neighboring towns.

In another warrant article, Town Meeting members will be asked to approve more than $51,300 to settle a lawsuit filed against the town last year by Municipal Management Associates Inc., the company that formerly served as Framingham's deputy tax collector.

Town Counsel Christopher J. Petrini wrote a memo to Town Meeting members earlier this month recommending the settlement.  If the company won its case, he wrote, the town could owe it more than $1 million.  The dispute was largely over language in the contract the town had with the company, Petrini said in the memo.

The entire warrant is available online at  Town Meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Memorial Building.

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