TM vote may be moot if suit goes to mediation Thursday, November 29, 2007
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - Most of the Town Meeting members who voted against the article asking for $150,000 to be transferred from the town's reserves to a special account said they weren't surprised that they were outnumbered Tuesday.

The roll call voted showed a 125-13 victory for the citizen petition, which created an account to be used for defense of a federal lawsuit against a dozen town officials last month by SMOC, charging them with discrimination.

Three other members who were at Nevins Hall abstained from the vote.  One of those three, Precinct 12's Michael Quinlan, was appointed on the same night as the special session.

Precinct 10 member Margo Deane, director of the Framingham Coalition for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, said her paid position had nothing to do with her decision to abstain from the vote.

"I just didn't feel I had enough information," said Deane.  "I don't think there was a clear answer between using a private attorney or just going though the insurance company."

Shortly after Town Meeting's vote, selectmen announced that they had hired Boston-based lawyer Jeffrey Robbins to defend the town officials sued by SMOC.  Without the money, officials likely would have had to use a lawyer from the town's insurance company, a move board members believed would limit the pool.

Town Counsel Chris Petrini continued to espouse the merits of mediation, saying the sides are hoping to reach agreement on a mediator before the case goes to trial in U.S. District Court in Boston.

Precinct 13's Wes Ritchie and Precinct 14's Courtney Elgart, both members of the Ways and Means standing committee, said information they heard in the executive session about the case swayed them to vote against the article.

"I trust the insurance company's judgment more than I trust the board of selectmen," said Ritchie.  "We've allowed the same people who got us into this lawsuit to make decisions to get us out of it."

Elgart worries about pinning the town budget on the hope for a mild winter, among other things.  The reserve account now has $350,000 for emergencies.

"To risk our financial well-being seems irresponsible," she said.

Precinct 10 member Lloyd Kaye is concerned about the case's merits, so he voted against the transfer.

"I don't like the idea of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a case we're probably not going to win," he said, saying he isn't surprised at SMOC's decision to file a lawsuit.

James Bauchmann of Precinct 14, who voted against the transfer, wonders why the case has become such a focus for Town Meeting members.

"People who are down and out should have ample housing," he said.  "I don't think politics should have anything to do with it.  I hope they know what they're getting themselves into.  It's going to be a long, drawn-out process."

Town Meeting members defeated a nonbinding resolution to make mediation the first priority in the legal fight and supported a nonbinding resolution that would block the town's legal team from accepting a deal that gives up local permitting power or forces the town to give SMOC any money.

Those decisions surprised Precinct 14 member Robert Cushing, who is on the board of directors of Wayside Youth and Family Support Network.

"I favor mediation in this dispute and I thought most people did," he said.  "In my opinion, $150,000 is excessive if we're going to go through mediation."

Diane Montgomery of Precinct 11 also supports mediation.

"I'm afraid we're going to be depleted if we need more money for the schools and the fire department and these other things," she said.  "Everyone knows it's a win-win if you mediate.

"Some people seem to have lost sight of what this lawsuit is about.  I wish compromises could've been made a long time ago," she said.

Tom Murphy of Precinct 6 agrees, saying he couldn't support spending money on the case.

"It's not in the best interest of taxpayers on either side of SMOC to be caught up in this," he said.

Precinct 14's Jim Rizoli voted against the article, saying he preferred a more aggressive approach.  He proposed an $80 million lawsuit against SMOC in a nonbinding resolution that failed Tuesday night.

"I thought we should go on the offensive," said Rizoli.

Gerard Couto of Precinct 13 wouldn't say why he voted against the article, but blasted SMOC for filing the lawsuit in the first place.

"I'm as appalled as anybody," he said.

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