SMOC lawsuit bill reach $147,000 Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Dan McDonald 508-626-4416 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- The town has spent $147,000 of a $150,000 appropriation in the South Middlesex Opportunity Council lawsuit since last November, according to selectmen Chairman Jason Smith.

It will proceed in the legal battle through this summer, if necessary, with funding coming from the already-approved legal budget for fiscal 2009.

Last night during special Town Meeting, a warrant article requesting further funding for the case was referred back to the sponsor - the Board of Selectmen - after that board determined it did not need additional money.

The town's chief financial officer, Mary Ellen Kelley, made a $638,000 recommendation to Town Meeting this past spring for the town's legal department.

Last October, SMOC filed suit alleging the town discriminated against the local disabled population.

Specifically, SMOC claims an attempt to open Larry's Place, a veterans shelter, and plans to move the Sage House Program, a residential drug treatment program, were delayed because of the actions of various town officials.

Last Friday, selectmen received financial information from the town's insurer - MIAA - regarding how much has already been spent in the case.

Last night, selectmen met with the Finance Committee prior to the special Town Meeting.

After those two communications, selectmen apparently were comfortable proceeding without asking for another appropriation. The selectmen will report back to Town Meeting in the fall with a financial update on the case.

Previously, the town had not divulged the dollar amount spent on the case, the argument being that such information would reveal case strategy.

As recently as last month, Richard Palmer, a town resident, had asked about the cost, only to have his question rejected on the basis of attorney-client privilege.

Mediation between SMOC and the town has already fallen apart once.

Smith indicated that the town was willing to re-enter mediation with SMOC.

"SMOC does not feel comfortable to ... return to mediation," Smith told the 129 meeting members gathered in Nevins Hall last night. "The only people that know why they're not going back into mediation is SMOC."

SMOC spokeswoman Jane Lane, reached after the meeting last night, disputed Smith's statements.

"The chairman is incorrect in his statement and SMOC has always indicated a willingness to enter into mediation," said Lane. "That is the statement we will stand by."

In its lawsuit, SMOC alleges that federal fair housing laws were violated, and suggests a conspiracy of elected and appointed town officials stymied the expansion of social services.

Last night, Town Meeting member Robert Snider blasted SMOC's case as "a direct assault to the integrity of this town." He noted, "The gist of this complaint is defamation."

Calls for the town to settle the case are imprudent, according to Snider.

"Cases are usually settled because they're about money," said Snider. "(This) issue is about freedom of speech and the ability of us to maintain control of our own government."

Those tenets are "unitary concepts," said Snider.

"You don't settle freedom of speech," he said. "How do you sell that? Are we going to agree not to say the word SMOC in this Town Meeting? Should we give up adverbs or adjectives?"

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