|A call to build town defense fund||Thursday, November 1, 2007|
|Tanya Perez-Brennan||Globe West|
Residents and Town Meeting members are calling for a Special Town Meeting to explore ways to raise funds to defend Framingham against a federal lawsuit filed last week by a regional social services agency, the South Middlesex Opportunity Council.
The SMOC lawsuit alleges that several town officials, as well as some residents, engaged in an "unlawful pattern of discrimination" and joined in a "coordinated effort" to rid Framingham of its disabled population.
Janet Leombruno, a Precinct 5 Town Meeting member, said SMOC "hand-picked" vocal people to include as defendants - individuals who had complained about the agency on Framingham Neighbors, or Frambors, a townwide e-mail list.
"It just seems that they're lumping the town officials with the most extreme comments on Frambors," Leombruno said. "As a town, we have to defend" the officials, she said. "Simply put, we can't allow this to happen."
Leombruno said that by the weekend she and other residents had gathered more than 400 signatures on a petition calling for the Special Town Meeting.
The signatures of 200 registered voters are required to call a Special Town Meeting, said Scott Morelli, assistant to the town manager. The Board of Selectmen has 45 days from the time it receives the petition to call the meeting, or the selectmen can decide to call one on their own, he said.
"This is the first step in a long battle that will be fought," Leombruno said. "I do know that it is going to cost money, but we have no idea how much money we can raise."
The town's annual legal budget is $610,000, but 100 active matters have to be handled out of that amount, said Town Counsel Christopher Petrini. Because of the complexity of the SMOC lawsuit - a 99-page complaint with 92 attached exhibits - additional funds will be needed, he said, adding that the town has never dealt with a lawsuit of this magnitude before.
"It would not surprise me if this thing went to fruition," he said. "If the case does have to be defended, it could cost both sides $500,000 or more."
The town has filed a claim with the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association requesting assistance with its legal defense, he said.
Petrini said he welcomed any amount that could be raised as a result of the Special Town Meeting to supplement the insurance coverage.
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