|SMOC sues town, local residents||Thursday, October 25, 2007|
|D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429||Metrowest Daily News|
FRAMINGHAM - In a lawsuit filed yesterday, the area's largest social service agency accuses t he town administrators and a handful of residents of participating in "a coordin ated effort to rid ... Framingham of its disabled population."
Southern Middlesex Opportunity Council's suit, filed in U.S. District Court in B oston, singles out Town Manager Julian Suso, Human Services Coordinator Alexis S ilver, three selectmen and four Planning Board members.
Also named as defendants are Town Meeting members Peter Adams, Cynthia Laurora, Laurie Lee and Steven Orr. Residents Anthony Siciliano and Harold Wolfe, w ho have expressed their opposition to social service agencies or their clients e ither on homemade Web sites or other online forums, are also named in the suit.
"Why am I being sued for stating my opinion?" asked Wolfe, who has run www.smoci ngham.org for several years but has not updated the site recently. "When t hey start naming everyone who opposes social services, it looks like it's a case of attacking those who attack them."
Jim Cuddy, SMOC's executive director, would not comment on the lawsuit. Ef forts to reach SMOC attorney Jim Hanrahan were unsuccessful.
Town Counsel Christopher Petrini promised a "thorough and complete review" of th e suit, which is almost 100 pages and contains 90 exhibits.
"It's unfortunate to see this level of public resources was expended on this law suit rather than the delivery of services," said Petrini.
The defendant list also includes selectmen Chairman Dennis Giombetti, Vice Chair man Jason Smith and member Ginger Esty; Planning Board members Ann Welles, Carol Spack, Sue Bernstein and Andrea-Carr Evans.
Orr, a Precinct 1 Town Meeting member who oversees Framingham Neighbors, a townw ide e-mail discussion group focused on town government, had not seen the suit ye sterday. He questioned the premise on which SMOC filed its claim.
"I find the whole thing to be consistent with the pattern of behavior of social service agencies and the people on the side of expanding them," he said. " At every possible opportunity, they're going to take the position that we're try ing to throw people out of town or shut programs down.
"We're trying to gain control of the rate of expansion," Orr said.
Bernstein called it "patently ridiculous" for the lawsuit to accuse her of using her position "unlawfully and purposefully to impose hurdles and requirements be yond the Planning Board's authority."
She also questioned how SMOC can accuse Bernstein of being "improperly influence d" by members of Stop Tax Exempt Private Property Sprawl, a group aimed at slowi ng the growth of social service agencies in town.
"I don't know how they can make that determination," said Bernstein.
Adams, the spokesman for STEPPS, believes the wide net cast by SMOC in its defen dant list was an attempt to include as many names as possible in its crosshairs. He called the group "wildly disparate," saying he rarely has reason to as sociate with Wolfe or Suso.
Adams doesn't plan to stop posting messages on Framingham Neighbors, he said, de spite admitting to occasionally inflammatory comments in the e-mail discussion g roup with more than 1,000 subscribers.
"I've always tried to be very measured and accurate," he said.
The same is true with the STEPPS Web site, said Adams, who said he has never hea rd from SMOC officials about information they viewed as inaccurate at www.stepps .info. Other agencies or people have called to ask STEPPS to remove inform ation, he said, and the group has done so several times.
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