Town Meeting to decide how to pay for SMOC suit

Town Meeting to decide how to pay for SMOC suit Tuesday, November 27, 2007
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - Town Meeting members will decide tonight whether to dip into the town's reserve fund to defend the federal lawsuit filed last month by South Middlesex Opportunity Council against several town officials.

The lone warrant article will ask Town Meeting to create a special account to defend the case, filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, by transferring $150,000 from the reserve fund, said Moderator Joel Winett.

That total would be enough to cover legal services tied to the potential mediation of the case, said Town Counsel Chris Petrini, and preserves some of the town's $500,000 reserve fund.

Petrini has estimated the case will cost at least $500,000 if it is not settled.  Officials on both sides have discussed having the situation settled by a professional mediator, but have not agreed to terms.

The sides are discussing names and dates of potential mediators, he said, and he believes "the odds are very high" the sides will agree to have the case mediated.

Jane Lane, spokeswoman for SMOC attorney Howard Cooper, said the agency is awaiting the town's next proposal.

Special accounts do not expire, unlike annual appropriations, which must be spent by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.  Like other accounts, they can be augmented in the future if the money in the account is insufficient.

The special Town Meeting, triggered by a petition that collected more than 500 signatures, starts at 7:30 p.m. in Nevins Hall.

In its 99-page lawsuit, SMOC accuses several town officials and two residents of "a coordinated effort" to rid Framingham of disabled people.

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

All defendants except Siciliano and Wolfe will be covered by the town's legal budget.  Siciliano recently hired John St. Andre as his lawyer, while Wolfe is exploring his options for legal representation.

Adams, Lee, Laurora and Orr can vote on the article and speak about it as long as they disclose their status as defendants in the case.

The Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association will cover some of the town's costs, but Petrini expects Framingham will have to hire a First Amendment lawyer and other special attorneys to defend its officials.

Sarah Wunsch, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said the group is staying on top of the case but not getting involved at this point.

"We're not in a position to do anything right now," she said.

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