Officials not worried about SMOC suit

Officials not worried about SMOC suit Friday, November 16, 2007
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - A pair of town administrators who were not among the many defendants named in a federal lawsuit brought last month by SMOC say they aren't worried about being the next people added to the court action.

Neither Building Commissioner Michael Foley nor Planning Board Administrator Jay Grande have felt pressured by SMOC's lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, to rule in favor of the social service agency in the weeks since.

Among the defendants named in SMOC's suit are Town Manager Julian Suso, Human Services Coordinator Alexis Silver, three selectmen, four Planning Board members and four Town Meeting members.

"I don't really worry about it," said Grande.  "I'm aware, of course, that there's a lawsuit but I never let that affect my decision-making."

Last week, Grande stepped in for the Planning Board, recommending to Foley that he should issue South Middlesex Opportunity Council a permanent occupancy permit for Sage House, a program for former addicts and their families.

The program, which will house up to 15 families, moved from 61 Clinton St. to 517 Winter St. in August.  Ardmore Road resident Larry Hendry is appealing the temporary occupancy permit for the project, but is likely to withdraw that appeal and replace it with one on the permanent permit, his attorney said.

SMOC officials have not given any indication they plan to amend the lawsuit, which charges several town officials and private citizens with "a coordinated effort" to push disabled people out of town.

Efforts to reach SMOC attorney Howard Cooper yesterday were not successful.

Although federal courts tend to be more strict when it comes to amending a complaint, it can be done if justified, especially this early in the process, said Town Counsel Chris Petrini.

"Anything's possible," he said when asked if he expected SMOC to add more defendants, noting the defendants list also includes John and Jane Does, which leaves open the addition of other public officials.

At the first scheduled hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals earlier this week, Hendry's attorney Jason Talerman said his client was proceeding slowly with his appeal because "Mr. Hendry doesn't want to be the next defendant," referring to the federal case filed by SMOC.

Zoning board Chairman Phil Ottaviani responded by saying his board needed to make sure it was operating within the confines of the law, especially with SMOC watching all activity in Framingham closely.

But the specter of having his name added to the lawsuit doesn't spook Foley, he said.

"The town hired me to do a job and I'm trying to do it the best I can within the confines of the law," he said.  "My decisions have been challenged and will continued to be challenged.

"If they disagree with my decision, they have the right to appeal it," he said, pointing to the appeal filed by SMOC with the zoning board on Foley's rejection of a group home for disabled veterans at 90 Lincoln St.

That case will begin Dec. 11.

Town officials can't inject personal judgment into decisions, said Foley.  The rulings are based largely on laws and regulations, he said.

"Your decision can't be weighed on who the personality is or what the entity is who's applying," he said.  "It has to be done based on the conditions presented to you."

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