Petition forces special town meeting to fight SMOC suit

Petition forces special town meeting to fight SMOC suit Saturday, November 3, 2007
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - About 700 people signed a petition that triggers a special Town Meeting to request more money in the legal budget to help fight a federal lawsuit brought last week by SMOC.

Petition organizer Janet Leombruno took the petition, which included the names of several hundred registered Framingham voters, to the Memorial Building yesterday afternoon, starting the clock to set a date for the special session.

The signatures from town residents, collected by several Town Meeting members and others across town, fill about 30 sheets, she said.

"What this shows is that people feel this town has bent over time and time again and been very accepting of social service agencies," said Leombruno, a Precinct 5 Town Meeting member and former volunteer for SMOC.

Leombruno did not know the exact number of signatures she turned in, and officials in Town Clerk Valerie Mulvey's office will stop counting once they certify 220 signatures, the minimum of 200 needed to call for the special meeting plus 10 percent.

Selectmen must schedule a special Town Meeting within 45 days after Mulvey certifies the signatures.  That puts the deadline in mid-December.

Leombruno plans to attend Tuesday's selectmen's meeting, at which time the board could set the date for the special Town Meeting.  The town clerk's office will be done with its certification in time for the meeting, said Mulvey.

The 99-page complaint by South Middlesex Opportunity Council points to "a coordinated effort" by town officials, three selectmen, four Planning Board members, several Town Meeting members and two other residents to rid the town of its disabled population.

SMOC's federal complaint, which also includes more than 90 exhibits, alleges violations of the Fair Housing Act, federal Rehabilitation Act, Americans With Disabilities Act and Civil Rights Act.

Among the defendants named in the case are Town Manager Julian Suso, Human Services Coordinator Alexis Silver, Selectmen Dennis Giombetti, Jason Smith and Ginger Esty; Planning Board members Ann Welles, Sue Bernstein, Carol Spack and Andrea Carr-Evans; and Town Meeting members Steven Orr, Peter Adams, Cynthia Laurora and Laurie Lee.

Town Counsel Chris Petrini said he expects the defense of the case, filed in U.S.  District Court in Boston last month, to cost at least $500,000.  The town could get some help in its legal fight from the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association, but may have to hire special attorneys, said Petrini.

"It's unfortunate it could cost that much, but we can't afford not to fight this," said Leombruno.

The big legal bill would force town officials to redirect money from other departments, possibly leaving the schools or public works projects with less than they expected, she said.

"We have to take that money out of our budget somewhere," said Leombruno.  "I think that's the part that has really infuriated people.  No one's going to win in the end.  Everyone will lose.  It's just going to be different degrees."

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