Petition calls for SMOC-Framingham mediation Saturday, May 10, 2008
Dan McDonald 508-626-4416 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Herb Chasan has had enough of the bickering, the verbal barbs, and perhaps most importantly, the bottom-line cost of the reputation-smearing spat.

Chasan wants the town and SMOC - embroiled in a public and divisive court case - to bury the past and move on.

The Precinct 4 Town Meeting member has drafted a petition that calls for the settlement through mediation of the legal battle between town residents and elected officials and the South Middlesex Opportunity Council.

Last fall, SMOC filed suit against town officials and some residents for what that organization perceived to be a concerted effort to hamper its efforts to expand its programs.

SMOC has maintained that such a conspiracy would violate land use discrimination laws.

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, according to court documents.

Mediation between the two sides has already fallen apart once, said Chasan. He hopes the second go-round will be more fruitful.

"It was my understanding that it failed because the lawyers from either side really don't get along that well," said Chasan, Friday.

Chasan hopes to collect 100 signatures for the petition before presenting it to the Board of Selectmen and SMOC.

He has already collected 50 signatures, but he does not have a deadline for his non-binding initiative.

"The idea is to try to get along and not be in this adversarial mode all the time," said Chasan.

Chasan, through his petition, says he does not want the town to continue spending taxpayer money fighting SMOC.

He is not willing to have a tax override for this case, nor is he willing to slice school funds to spend on the case, he said.

"Framingham needs to establish a reasonable way to deal with social service agencies," reads the petition.

Last fall, Town Meeting set aside $150,000 to pay for legal costs associated with the case.

On the first night of this year's Town Meeting, Selectmen Chairman Jason Smith said the town had yet to eclipse that figure.

Yesterday, Howard Cooper, a lawyer representing SMOC in the case, said SMOC had always been interested in working things out.

"If the town is also interested in constructive dialogue their lawyers need only to pick up the telephone," said Cooper.

However, Jeff Robbins, an attorney representing the town, said SMOC is ultimately responsible for the burden of costs in the case, as SMOC brought the case against the town, not vice versa.

"The decision to file a lawsuit against local residents, volunteers serving on boards, and town officials has been damaging to SMOC and damaging to Framingham, and it was a decision that was made by SMOC," said Robbins. "Having said that, the town is always willing to talk with representatives of SMOC and will continue to do so if SMOC wishes."

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