GOP panel to hold public forum on SMOC lawsuit

GOP panel to hold public forum on SMOC lawsuit Tuesday, November 6, 2007
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - Protecting freedom of speech crosses political party lines, the chairman of the Republican Town Committee said yesterday.

That is why the group is opening its next gathering - a discussion of the federal lawsuit filed last month by South Middlesex Opportunity Council against several town officials and private citizens - to Republicans, Democrats or even people who are not generally involved in politics.

"The primary concern is what's already been a chilling effect on public debate," said committee Chairman Ed McGrath.  "This is a new chapter in how we debate public issues and it's a scary one.

"I think the law will eventually sort things out, but in the meantime the town and these individuals will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend themselves," he said.

The forum will be Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. in the Oaks Building activity room, 100 Dr. Harvey Cushing Way.  It was originally slated for Nov. 15, but will be pushed back a couple of weeks because of a conflict in McGrath's schedule.

He plans to reach out to Democratic Town Committee leaders to invite them to co-host the event.

McGrath pointed to the trend among some posters to Framingham Neighbors (, a townwide e-mail forum focused on local politics, to add disclaimers to their posts, assuring readers their opinions are not reflective of others' thoughts.

In SMOC's lawsuit, it alleges "a coordinated effort" by the defendants to rid the town of its disabled population.  Among those being sued are Town Manager Julian Suso, Human Services Coordinator Alexis Silver, three selectmen, four Planning Board members, several Town Meeting members and two private citizens.

The town committee plans to work with other residents and community groups in defending the rights of those named in SMOC's action, said McGrath.

Residents and town officials must be free to discuss and debate all subjects, especially an issue as important as the growth of social service agencies in Framingham, he said.

"The FRTC is proud of the efforts Framingham has made in welcoming and assisting those in need into our community," said McGrath in a press release announcing the upcoming forum.  "Silencing critics will not resolve our differences; discussing those differences with an open mind, listening to our neighbors, and working together will."

The committee will also support the special Town Meeting article asking for more money in the legal budget to fight the SMOC lawsuit, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Boston. Town Counsel Chris Petrini expects the matter will cost well above $500,000 if the case runs to its conclusion.

The Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association will cover the costs of the insurance portion of the case and may pick up more of the tally.  The town is likely to bring in special attorneys for First Amendment and other pieces of the defense, said Petrini.

Town Clerk Valerie Mulvey's office certified 235 signatures on the special Town Meeting petition, triggering a 45-day window in which selectmen must call for the session. That means the special meeting must be before Dec. 20.

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