Framingham Town Meeting article seeks SMOC answers

Framingham Town Meeting article seeks SMOC answers Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Dan McDonald 508-626-4416 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- When it comes to legal expenses connected with the town's ongoing court battle with SMOC, Richard Paul wants answers. He hopes his search culminates tonight at Town Meeting.

Paul, a member from Precinct 7, was the impetus behind a proposal that requests information from town officials regarding the South Middlesex Opportunity Council's lawsuit against the town and town officials.

Town Meeting begins tonight at 7:30 in Nevins Hall at the Memorial Building.

At the heart of Article 2 of the Town Meeting warrant is accountability and objectivity, said Paul yesterday.

"With four of the selectmen and the town manager listed as defendants and in control of the process and the expenditure of the money, the situation is troubling," Paul wrote in a statement that he plans to give to Town Meeting.

Paul said he has no agenda other than to better inform the public, saying he has no relatives who work for SMOC.

"I have no vested interest," he said.

Since last fall, the town has been embroiled in a legal battle with SMOC. Several town officials and residents are listed as defendants in SMOC's claims.

SMOC argues that town officials made a concerted effort to block expansion of its programs.

The agency contends the town delayed efforts to open Larry's Place, a veterans shelter, and plans to move Sage House program, a residential drug treatment program, according to court documents.

However, attorney Adam Simms, who represents some town officials in the case, recently said, "We fundamentally contend there was no conspiracy of any kind. The allegations do not amount to a conspiracy. The (defendants) were exercising their First Amendment rights."

He added that the various municipal boards in town "are not there to act as a rubber stamp committee."

Paul hopes to shed some light on the disagreement.

He said he wants to know how many times lawyers from each side have met, how many mediation sessions have been held, how much they cost, and how many hours have been billed for legal services.

Last November, Town Meeting set aside $150,000 to fund the defense of town officials.

Paul wants to know if any of the money has been used, and when Town Meeting will be asked to raise more money for the case.

"In the final analysis, the only thing that matters is who the judge or jury will believe, or better still, for SMOC and Framingham to find a resolution to this (lawsuit) that both can live with as soon as possible," according to a written statement of Paul's.

Since the time SMOC filed the suit, the U.S. Department of Justice told the town it has opened an investigation into land-use in Framingham.

That development has not escaped Paul's purview.

He wants to know if any time or money has gone toward the investigation, and if the town will ask for more money this fiscal year because of the department's probe.

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