SMOC questions town's commitment to mediation December 1, 2007
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - A non-binding resolution passed this week at a special Town Meeting could sabotage the ability of town officials to mediate a federal lawsuit brought last month by SMOC, the agency's director said late yesterday. Jim Cuddy, executive director of South Middlesex Opportunity Council, expressed concern that the vote - which says the town's legal team should not turn over local oversight or any money in a mediation of the case - will mean hopes for meaningful mediation could be dashed. "A successful mediation requires both sides to come to the table with no preconditions and with open minds," wrote Cuddy in a statement sent out yesterday afternoon.  "This week's Town Meeting vote was designed to limit the results which might be achieved through a mediated settlement. "I must now question the commitment of the town to enter into the meditation process in good faith.  Town Meeting has sent a very strong message to elected officials that meaningful mediation should not be pursued," he wrote. The lawsuit, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Boston, charges a dozen town officials and two private citizens with discrimination and "a coordinated effort" to rid the town of its disabled population. Among the defendants are Town Manager Julian Suso, Human Resources Director Alexis Silver, three selectmen, four Planning Board members, four Town Meeting members and two private citizens. SMOC officials delivered a letter this morning to Town Counsel Chris Petrini confirming the agency's commitment to mediate.  Jeffrey Robbins of Boston-based law firm Mintz Levin is serving as the town's lead attorney. Both sides have expressed a desire to mediate the case, but that isn't the only option, said Robbins yesterday. "The choice of whether or not to mediate is entirely up to SMOC," he said.  "If SMOC wants to litigate, the town will do that.  If SMOC wants to mediate, the town will do that.  The town isn't going to be bullied by anybody. "SMOC seems to be doing a great disservice to its directors and employees.  If SMOC wishes to hurt both itself and the town by pulling out of mediation, that would be a regrettable choice.  You can't prevent people from making mistakes.  The town is prepared to mediate to avoid very bloody litigation," said Robbins. The resolution, proposed by Precinct 1 member Peggy Groppo, passed, 78-44.  A second resolution, brought by Precinct 3 member George Dixon, asking for mediation to be the town's first priority, failed without a hand count. The overall motion to create a special account to defend the lawsuit and transfer $150,000 from the town reserves passed 125-13 with three abstentions. "The biggest concern I heard is that Town Meeting would have no control over what was mediated," said Groppo yesterday.  "We didn't want to be paid off to make this go away. "We would love this case to go away, but we didn't want to pay out to have that happen.  This was the only way we could say we're willing to fight this," she said.

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