[Hpn] Officials split over videotape of homeless;Framingham, MA;10/30/01

Morgan W. Brown norsehorse@hotmail.com
Tue, 30 Oct 2001 12:17:04 -0500

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Tuesday, October 30, 2001
Boston Globe <http://www.boston.com/globe>
Globe West section
Page B2
Officials split over videotape of homeless

Board chairman allows viewing, but not at meeting

By Thanassis Cambanis, Globe Staff Correspondent, 10/30/2001

In a move they believe will galvanize opposition to a downtown homeless 
shelter, neighborhood activists led by Selectwoman Ginger Esty won the right 
yesterday to play at a public meeting police surveillance tapes that 
apparently depict shelter residents drinking and urinating in public.

Esty said she wanted to show the videotapes during Thursday night's 
Framingham Board of Selectmen meeting, when the South Middlesex Opportunity 
Council will respond to neighborhood complaints that the overflow shelter it 
operates on Columbia Street is poorly managed and has caused a nuisance in 
the area.

''I want the public to see what is actually happening in the downtown, to 
know the extent of the problems people are trying to live with,'' Esty said.

The overflow shelter has operated at its present location for more than a 
year and is the only area facility that admits intoxicated people. Neighbors 
have complained that homeless people gather outside the shelter and disturb 
other residents, especially inhabitants of an apartment complex for the 
elderly across the street.

John Kahn, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, who has a rocky relationship 
with Esty, would not authorize the showing of police tapes during Thursday's 
meeting. ''It's probably not appropriate for prime time,'' Kahn said. 
''Everyone agrees there's a problem at the shelter. I don't know if we need 
action shots.''

Instead, Kahn yesterday afternoon scheduled a public viewing of the tapes 
for 4 p.m. Thursday in Town Hall.

The tape, according to people who have viewed it, was shot from a residence 
near the shelter and shows people loitering outside the shelter, urinating 
near a dumpster, and drinking what appear to be alcoholic beverages.

If the surveillance tapes contain unsavory scenes, Esty said, public access 
television could censor its routine broadcast of the selectmen's meeting.

Jim Cuddy, executive director of the South Middlesex Opportunity Council, 
acknowledged that neighbors had raised valid complaints about safety in the 
vicinity of the shelter.

''We're seeing more homeless people than we've ever seen before, and we 
really believe that we need to provide this community service,'' Cuddy said.

The agency has removed the dumpster on the Columbia Road property, Cuddy 
said, and has told police that it will work to exclude from the shelter any 
individual specifically identified as a public nuisance.

''I honestly don't know how showing the tape would enhance the dialogue 
about how to meet a community crisis,'' he added.

Kahn's decision to set up a surveillance tape screening came after a series 
of seven e-mails exchanged from Thursday to Sunday between Esty and Kahn, 
copied to all four selectmen, about the homeless shelter hearing.

In a memorandum to all four members of the board dated Oct. 25, Kahn 
proposed allowing critics and supporters of the shelter to speak during 
Thursday's public hearing.

Esty accused Kahn of giving the South Middlesex Opportunity Council too wide 
a scope to discuss its entire social services programming, rather than 
respond to the specific safety complaints leveled against the shelter on 
Columbia Road.

''This subject is on the agenda at my request and I do not approve of any 
attempts to dilute the earnest requests for help from the taxpayers in that 
neighborhood,'' Esty wrote in an Oct. 27 e-mail.

Finally, on Sunday in her third e-mail on subject, Esty said she was 
''uneasy'' because the e-mails ''seem to be skirting close to open meeting 
law violations.''

The next day Kahn put the entire e-mail correspondence in town files as a 
public record. ''Anyone who wants to see them can see them,'' Kahn said.

According to open meetings guidelines issued by the Middlesex district 
attorney, government officials may use e-mail to communicate about 
housekeeping matters like scheduling meetings or placing matters on an 
agenda. But the guidelines warn that e-mail conversations about public 
business among a quorum of board members violate the Open Meeting Law.

E-mail use by government officials ''carries a high risk of violating the 
law,'' the district attorney's guidelines say, ''and are best avoided except 
for matters of a purely housekeeping or administrative nature.''

Thanassis Cambanis can be reached at 508-820-4233 or

This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 10/30/2001.


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Morgan <norsehorse@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA

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