Social service summit planned for tonight Tuesday, July 12, 2005
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Selectmen tonight are holding a summit on social service agencies following the recent uproar over expansion plans, but with only one organization set to attend, some are charging the agencies are ducking the board's questions.

The meeting follows outcries from some residents about the organizations, particularly those living around the former Framingham Nursing Home.  The South Middlesex Opportunity Council plans to turn the Winter Street building into housing for recovering addicts.

But while selectmen had hoped to meet with several agencies tonight, including SMOC, only one -- the Salvation Army -- said yesterday it plans to attend.  The others have different reasons for not going.

"I think SMOC is revealing their true colors by not coming," said Janice Skelley, a resident who is fighting SMOC's plans for the nursing home.  "By not working with the town, they're showing they're not good neighbors, that they're not interested in what the townspeople have to say or what the selectmen have to say."

Selectman Ginger Esty, an outspoken critic of SMOC, agreed.

"It's very transparent, and it's a game they've played before," she said about the organization.

In addition to the summit, selectmen are scheduled to talk about appointing a study committee to examine payments in lieu of taxes from social service agencies.  Last month, Town Meeting added $1,000 to the town manager's budget to research a payment program.

Selectmen Chairwoman Katie Murphy said the scope of the social services summit would be limited if only the Salvation Army shows up.

"I don't intend to have a conversation about agencies that aren't present.  I don't think that will be a fruitful discussion," she said.

SMOC's executive director, Jim Cuddy, could not be reached for comment yesterday, but in a letter to Town Manager George King, Cuddy wrote the agency would meet with selectmen after Labor Day.  It could not make tonight's meeting, he wrote, because of "vacation scheduling and other pending commitments."

Gerard Desilets, SMOC's planning director, said the organization was willing to have a "generic discussion" with selectmen about nonprofits in Framingham, but would not discuss locating a specific program like the one slated for the nursing home.

"It is our policy that we not hold specific siting meetings with the Board of Selectmen, whether it's Winter Street or another site.  The issue being that under (federal law), people have a right to live in any neighborhood," he said.

In his letter, Cuddy also encouraged selectmen to focus on the benefits nonprofits create for Framingham.

"We have grown increasingly concerned about attempts by some to create a negative climate regarding social service organizations," he wrote.  "What seems to be lost in the current climate is the value and positive impact SMOC and other community-based nonprofits have to the local economy and to quality of life issues for local residents."

Along with SMOC and the Salvation Army, selectmen invited Wayside Youth and Family Network and Advocates Inc., which serves people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities.

Wayside declined the invitation because it will apply to the board for a public access permit for its proposed Lockland Avenue facility.  Advocates President and CEO Bill Taylor said he first wants to meet with his board of directors before appearing before selectmen.

Taylor said the agency "looked forward to a dialogue with the board."

"I would hope that the board does not see us as avoiding them.  I want to make sure that when we speak, we speak on behalf of the organization," he said.

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