Town Meeting approves money to fight SMOC suit

Town Meeting approves money to fight SMOC suit Wednesday, November 28, 2007
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - Town Meeting last night backed a citizen petition to move $150,000 from the town's reserve fund to a special account that will be used to defend a dozen officials from a federal lawsuit filed last month by SMOC.

Members supported the petition, 125-13, with three people abstaining.  Two other members who checked in didn't vote.

"Framingham has been attacked and must defend itself and a good defense costs money," said Precinct 7 member Frank Reilly.  "Our officials have stood up for Framingham.  Now Framingham must stand up for them."

Precinct 5 member Janet Leombruno, who started the citizen petition a few days after SMOC filed its suit in U.S. District Court in Boston, last night called the action "a direct hit to the town of Framingham."

"We need to stand up for the rights of our town officials to speak up for the people of Framingham," said Leombruno.

Among those who voted against the measure were Precinct 4's Dawn Harkness.  She pointed to Selectmen Ginger Esty, Dennis Giombetti and Jason Smith as largely responsible for the lawsuit being filed in the first place.

Esty, Giombetti and Smith were named as defendants, along with Town Manager Julian Suso; Human Services Coordinator Alexis Silver; Planning Board members Sue Bernstein, Andrea Carr-Evans, Carol Spack and Ann Welles; Town Meeting members Peter Adams, Cynthia Laurora, Laurie Lee, and Steven Orr; and private citizens Anthony Siciliano and Harold Wolfe.

All but Siciliano and Wolfe are covered under the special account.

"I see this (Town Meeting article) as handing control to a Board of Selectmen that's responsible for getting us to this point," said Harkness, saying they have often ignored Town Counsel Chris Petrini's advice.

The often-emotional discussion lasted about 90 minutes and brought 143 of 187 sitting members to Nevins Hall, including newcomers Pablo Maia in Precinct 9 and Mike Quinlan in Precinct 12.

Shortly after the vote, selectmen announced they have hired Jeffrey Robbins of Boston-based law firm Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo to represent municipal officials sued by SMOC for what it called "a coordinated effort" to run disabled people out of town.

Efforts to reach SMOC lawyer Howard Cooper and public relations consultant Jane Lane last night were unsuccessful.  SMOC Executive Director Jim Cuddy did not watch last night's session and had no comment when reached at home.

The sides are working on hiring a professional mediator to settle the case, said Petrini.  The $150,000 sum would likely cover the town's portion of the mediation costs, with its insurance covering the rest, he said.

The town will pay 40 percent of mediation costs if the sides agree to terms.  The insurance company would pay 60 percent of mediation costs, plus pay for the mediator and for any costs incurred by Petrini or other members of his firm if mediation begins.

Town Meeting voted against a nonbinding resolution asking for mediation to be the first priority and backed a nonbinding measure saying Petrini should not agree to mediation that relinquishes the town's rights to local oversight or awards SMOC money.

"Everything has to be taken into account," said Petrini.  "I certainly respect Town Meeting's vote, but it was a split vote.  The concern I have in the long run is the potential for mammoth costs in defending this case.

"If we aren't able to find fair and equitable terms for both parties, a settlement won't be forthcoming," he said.

In its only other vote, Town Meeting soundly rejected member Jim Rizoli's nonbinding resolution asking to sue SMOC for $80 million for 25 years of use of the town's public services.  

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