Framingham approves additional $350K to fight SMOC

Framingham approves additional $350K to fight SMOC Thursday, April 30, 2009
Dan McDonald 508-626-4416 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- The message could not have been clearer.

By an overwhelming majority, Town Meeting last night approved a $350,000 transfer to defend Framingham in its federal lawsuit with the South Middlesex Opportunity Council.

The final tally: 126 in favor of the appropriation, nine against, and six abstentions.

In its lawsuit, filed in October 2007, SMOC, a nonprofit social service agency, named selectmen, Planning Board members, and Town Meeting members, alleging a handful of officials tried to block expansion of its social services and violated federal housing law in doing so.

SMOC alleges the town discriminated against the disabled through attempting to stall projects involving a drug rehabilitation facility and a veterans shelter.

Town Meeting had already appropriated $400,000 for the case before last night's meeting.

Despite the emotional chord the suit has struck in town, the scene inside the Memorial Building's Nevins Hall last night was civil. For the better part of two hours the legislative body was quiet while residents spoke about the case. Town Moderator Ed Noonan had to use his gavel sparingly to hush the crowd.

The frustration, however, was still palpable.

Town Meeting member Robert Snider suggested the case was the most egregious example of "blaming the victim" for the wrongs committed "by the perpetrator."

"The intent is to intimidate the town on all levels of government," said Snider.

But if the suit had no merit, said Town Meeting member Judy Perry, it would have already been thrown out.

She said "all the cheerleading," equating town support "with spending more money really does not make a whole lot of sense."

SMOC is seeking to put the town into receivership, which essentially would mean courts would have the final say on decisions that would normally fall under Planning Board jurisdiction. That did not sit well with several Town Meeting members, including Bill McCarthy, who noted SMOC "can't even control the individuals they import into town."

Kevin Crotty said he was saddened, as the town slogs through tough fiscal times, that the town had to consider sinking more money "into what seems to me like a black hole."

"To keep spending money on this doesn't seem to make too much sense," said Crotty.

Selectman Jason Smith pointed out that there would be no need for more money had SMOC not brought forward the case.

Smith also told Town Meeting that Framingham has, on numerous occasions, tried to reach common ground with SMOC and mediate the case. All such instances were fruitless.

He also dispelled the notion there was any conflict of interest in the financial management of the case. Four of the five selectmen are individually named in the suit, but Smith said his board, which oversees litigation for the town, has been cleared of any conflict of interest by the state Ethics Commission.

Town Meeting member Ed Vassar, referencing the recent shooting of a Framingham police officer where the alleged gunman was from Boston and living in a SMOC house on Deloss Street, implored Town Meeting to " defend the quality of life in Framingham."

Town Meeting not only supported funding the suit overwhelming, but also passed a resolution requesting the town bring forth a countersuit to seek damages, from the "abuse brought forth," in SMOC's case. The resolution was also a formal call for a change in SMOC leadership.

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