Bazelon reactions and non-reactions

posted by Mike on November 23rd, 2005

Last week the press reacted to a memo from Bazelon that said the recommendations of the (Worcester) Mayor’s Task Force on social service siting might violate federal law. (This even made it into a Daily Kos diary, which allows you to vote on whether “The Task Force on Social Services are Fucks.”)

Worcester Magazine ran a disappointing editorial on this issue. It began:

The inflammatory issue of social service siting received a kick recently when a Washington, D.C.-based agency weighed in on local politics, saying that a recent city report potentially discriminates against people with disabilities.

The national legal advocate for people with mental disabilities [Bazelon] issued its statement at the behest of a Cambridge-based social service agency, defending the position that such agencies have a constitutional right to locate programs wherever they choose. We realize that these people have to protect their turf, but the recommendations of the Mayor’s Task Force on Social Service Siting were eminently reasonable — and voluntary in nature. This response fans a fire that really doesn’t need additional fuel. Their position may well be supported by the courts in many instances, but it doesn’t advance the laudable and civilized objective of staying out of the courts in the first place.

(Bazelon argues that the recommendations are not voluntary in a footnote.)

The editorial doesn’t mention the charges again till the final sentence:

This recent salvo from Washington represents a half step in the wrong direction.

It’s odd that this editorial defending the Task Force report from the Bazelon memo never engages the charges in the memo.

Technically, the editorial doesn’t ignore Bazelon’s charges; 156 of the 585 words relate to the charges. But the editorial doesn’t address the charges. What are they, exactly? Are they serious? Are they legitimate? If so, what should the city do?

Ignoring the charges is not only odd, it’s irresponsible. A casual reader might think that the charges can’t be too serious, or the editorial writer would consider them.

But the charges are serious: that the recommendations violate federal law.

This is important, as it could mean lawsuits and derail the work of the city’s task force. It’s also important because discriminating against people with disabilities is sleazy, and would make the city look bad.

As a WoMag reader and a non-lawyer, I expected WoMag’s coverage to include some context about the sorts of opinions that legal advocates issue about social service siting reports, and whether those opinions mean anything.

I also expected an overview of Bazelon’s line of reasoning. I can’t follow the logic of the memo writer in linking recommendations to EOHHS (a state agency) with “the City’s procurement process”.

Am I expecting too much? This sort of analysis would be basic to responsible coverage of the siting issue. But I didn’t get any of this from the editorial, just a bunch of arguments that could have been written any time since WoMag first leaked the details of the Task Force report. The editorial defends the report without answering the most recent, and most powerful, challenges to it. I’m disappointed.

N.B.: The closest thing I’ve seen to a clarification of the memo in the press was this paragraph in the Telegram & Gazette’s first article on the memo:

But [Michael] Allen, the Bazelon senior staff lawyer, said in an interview, “As a practical matter, the city controls both zoning and land use decisions, and is also a conduit for federal housing and community development funding. I believe the report carries the implicit threat that zoning approval and funding might be denied to social services providers who did not go along with the recommendations.”

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