SMOC suit leaves no easy answers October 30, 2007
Kathy Uek 508-626-4419 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - Following the advice of town counsel, Human Services Coordinator Alexis Silver refused to answer questions when she presented her Human Service Policy and Program Coordinator Report to the Temple Beth Am Brotherhood Sunday.

But members of the breakfast crowd voiced their opinions about the lawsuit recently filed against town officials by the South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC).

"It's so focused on us versus the agency," said Bob Berman, a community activist and former Town Meeting member for about 11 years.

Silver is one of the defendants named in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in which SMOC accuses town administrators and a handful of residents of participating in "a coordinated effort to rid ... Framingham of its disabled population," according to an earlier MetroWest Daily News story.

SMOC's suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, also names Town Manager Julian Suso, three selectmen and four Planning Board members. Other defendants were also named.

The 99-page complaint alleges violations of the Fair Housing Act, federal Rehabilitation Act, Americans With Disabilities Act and Civil Rights Act.

The suit asks the court to award SMOC "punitive and exemplary" damages in an amount chosen by the jury; enter a permanent injunction to require Framingham to comply with all federal and state laws; take supervisory jurisdiction over Framingham's actions to ensure compliance with the law; enter a permanent injunction requiring Framingham to issue a permanent occupancy permit for Sage House, a SMOC home for former addicts and their families; enter a permanent injunction ordering all required permits for Larry's Place, a proposed home for disabled homeless veterans; and attorneys' fees.

Berman says the focus should be on working with the state to create equity on how programs are provided and cited throughout the state.

"One possibility is reimbursement to the towns who are providing the locations," he said.  "The second could be the development of citing procedures - finding ways to pay for the services we provide, and are happy to provide, but it can be expensive.  The Board of Selectmen has not shown leadership in working toward a solution.  No sides have been brought together.  The town is divisive.  It's a lack of focus from the executive board of the town on what we really need to do to work on the issues."

Berman sees many sides to the issue.  "Everybody is right and everybody is wrong," he said.  "It's not as clear as white and black."

On the issue of fairness, Ernest Greenberg, a 51-year resident of Framingham, asked the Brotherhood how many programs are in more affluent communities like Weston and Wellesley?

Daniel Bendell, a concerned resident who said he acknowledges both sides of the issue, wants fairness as well.

"Originally, I had no problem with the use of that facility down the street on Lanewood Avenue," said Bendell, referring to a group home.  "They had a good group.  They were peaceful.  They were not disruptive."

Bendell said he is worried because the residents who now live there are different.

"The home has had an impact on the neighborhood causing concern for other residents on the street simply by virtue of the realistic fact that the police have had to come several times in the last six months," he said.  "The result is our kids are asking why the police are there so often.

"Ultimately, we just want to find a nice balance between what the organizations are trying to do and the overall impact they have on the community," added Bendell.  "They need to understand there is an impact on the community and they need to respect that as well."

The report Silver delivered yesterday morning included a summary of Framingham's situation, the current state of social services, ongoing coalition and meetings with human service providers and related activities, and the human service coordinator action plan.  She delivered the same report to Town Meeting last week.

While residents grapple with the problem, Temple Beth Am's Rabbi Adam Miller reminded the crowd of Leviticus 19:14: "You shall not insult the deaf nor place a stumbling block before the blind."

"It's a very charged topic," said Miller.  "Remember those at the center, for the most part, can't speak for themselves."

Outside the meeting, Town Meeting member Janet Leombruno asked meeting attendees if they wanted to sign a petition to call for a special Town Meeting to fund the legal defense.

"The meeting would open the dialogue that we are standing behind the town manager, the selectmen, Alexis, and Town Meeting members," said Leombruno.  "As Town Meeting members, these elected people are doing their jobs," she said.

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