Warren residents vote to settle lawsuit over methadone clinic — for $1

Posted Sept. 14, 2011, at 11:01 p.m.

WARREN, Maine — Residents who came to a special town meeting Wednesday night figured they’d be voting whether to spend $180,000 to settle an Americans With Disabilities Act lawsuit over a methadone clinic planned for a former school.

But when the 149 voters arrived, they learned that the dollar figure had been reduced considerably earlier that day — to $1.

After lengthy, sometimes contentious and often confused debate and discussion at Warren Community School, voters decided 97-45 to authorize spending the dollar for a “full and final” settlement with the company that is suing the town.

“It’s all said and done,” Selectman Wayne Luce said after the vote, adding that the town’s methadone ordeal, which began a year ago, has gone on “too long.”

Earlier Wednesday, the community’s insurer informed town officials that it would cover all but $1 of the $320,000 needed to settle the lawsuit with California-based drug rehabilitation company CRC Health Group.

That news, however, seemed to do little to settle the bad feelings held by some in the community over the matter.

A year ago, Rockland developer Bob Emery of Vixen Land Holdings Inc. moved to purchase the unused Brick School from Warren, telling officials it would be rented as office space. When it became clear that CRC Health Group planned to use the school for a methadone clinic, the town broke off its agreement with Emery.

Residents voted last December for a temporary moratorium against methadone clinics and adopted land ordinances in July regulating large business, professional or methadone offices or clinics there. Although the final ordinances do not mention the words “methadone clinic,” CRC Health Group filed a lawsuit this spring in U.S. District Court in Portland that asserted the town’s actions were discriminatory because drug addicts are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

That did not sit well with Hugh Magbie, who lives next door to the Brick School.

“I’m furious with the predatory practices of companies that use the ADA as leverage to descend on unprepared towns and ignorant selectmen that result in outrageous payments made through litigation,” he said while the votes were being counted. “This needs to be investigated by Congress — and predatory practices need to be abolished.”

Town attorney Patrick Mellor told residents that the town’s position from the beginning has been that it has done nothing wrong but that settling the lawsuit was likely to cost less and be easier in the long run than going to court.

“But there is litigation pending, and as with any litigation, there are substantial risks associated,” he said.

The meeting was being videotaped by CRC Health Group, which caused some people in the crowd to feel uncomfortable. One man suggested that individual residents could be in danger of being sued over their comments.

Attorney Walter McKee, who represents CRC Health Group, said that wasn’t the case.

“I know you’re all very suspicious [about the camera,]” he said. “But the plain fact is we have no intent to sue any individuals over any of this stuff at all. You as an individual citizen can come up and say whatever you want to.”

Despite that, one woman still declined to give her name when the BDN asked her opinion of the split vote afterwards.

“There’s quite a few people who are unhappy,” she said. “Some people wanted it to go away. And some people wanted to do what’s right.”

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