Social service study group blasted Thursday, November 24, 2005
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- The committee studying social service agencies dropped an effort to possibly discipline one member after the town moderator said the group was divided and bogged down by internal squabbling.

Town Moderator Ed Noonan pleaded with the PILOT committee Tuesday night to rededicate itself to its mission and get past recent infighting that has cost the group unity and civility.

"This committee has become very polarized, and I ask myself why.  What happened?" said Noonan, who went on to warn that the group's work would be jeopardized if it remained "balkanized."

The committee for weeks has been grappling with a controversial attempt by member Steve Orr to get inside the wet shelter downtown at the end of October.  His behavior came under fire from the agency that runs the shelter and other committee members.

Noonan said the committee should be working on their study of social service agencies, "not taking shots at each other and not causing great pain in the community."

"It's not about politics.  It's not about who likes each other and who doesn't like each other," he said.  "That's not what you're about.  You've gone there and I deplore that."

The majority of the committee apparently took that message to heart Tuesday, voting 7-2 with one abstention to drop further discussion about Orr's behavior and the subsequent fallout.

"I think we're spinning our wheels in the wrong direction," said committee member Jim Palmer.

The committee was initially planning to go behind closed doors to talk about Orr and a possible reprimand.  Four other members -- Chairman Bob Berman, Dawn Harkness, Wes Ritchie and Laurie Lee -- were nearly roped into the executive session as well and faced possible reprimand.

According to minutes of a previous meeting, they would have been included in the executive session for making comments to the press about Orr's actions.  The News also reported on an e-mail Harkness wrote about Orr, though it was not clear yesterday whether that e-mail would have been part of the executive session.

Harkness and Ritchie voted against the motion.  Berman abstained.  Harkness argued the committee needs to deal with Orr's behavior.  Otherwise, she said, its work will be seen as "suspect."

She pointed to an e-mail from Margo Deane, the head of the Framingham Coalition Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse, encouraging other agencies not to cooperate with the committee until Orr is removed or resigns.

In the e-mail, Deane calls Orr's behavior "rude and unethical" and wrote that the committee's credibility is "endangered."

The committee is studying social service agencies to determine their effect on the town and ultimately research and present options on a payment in lieu of taxes program.

Harkness also accused Orr of violating the state's Open Meeting Law and harassing former committee member Kurt Steinberg off the committee.  She and Steinberg could not be reached for comment yesterday.  Berman declined comment about Harkness' charges.

Orr, however, denied he violated the Open Meeting Law or that he forced Steinberg off the committee.  He accused Harkness of having "worked very, very hard to make me look bad."

"This was a huge waste of time for everybody.  It was a huge waste of time.  Everybody is happy that this whole thing is over," he said.

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