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Chimark council questioned by residents about tennis conflict

Chimark council questioned by residents about tennis conflict


Tensions flared Sunday at the Chilmark Community Center during a discussion about the issues surrounding tomorrow's city council meeting on who will manage the city's tennis courts.

Some attendees were puzzled by how an issue about tennis courts could have become so polarizing in the community, but for those on the opposite side of the issue, the lecture marked a boiling point after months of simmering disagreement and finger-pointing.

If voters approve Article 32 at Tuesday's annual town meeting, it would create a public town tennis commission to manage the courts year-round, with ownership transferred to the Chilmark Town Affairs Council (CTAC), which operates the courts in the summer manages. The article was suggested by the Friends and Associates of Chilmark Tennis (FACT).

Amid mounting criticism of CTAC leadership over how they have handled the divisive issue, long-serving Chilmark tennis pro Eddie Stahl took center stage on Sunday. Some in the audience said they felt he was the victim of a concerted effort by CTAC leadership to remove him from the public tennis court where he taught and coached players for 25 years. At one point during Sunday's meeting, dozens of attendees raised their hands in a show of support for Stahl.

Voters did not receive a direct answer to whether Stahl's contract would be renewed from embattled CTAC President Suellen Lazarus, or from Susan Pimental Andrien, executive director of the Chilmark Community Center. Leadership told attendees several times Sunday that they did not want to comment on personnel issues.

“I want to start by addressing an issue that is often cited as the reason why FACT was founded and the tennis statute was proposed,” Lazarus said Sunday. That problem is that there is a personal problem between the tennis professional and me. This is not true. As chairman, I have worked every year to keep his job.

Residents also questioned CTAC leadership about a video posted publicly this past week by Kyle Williams, who has previously worked with CTAC on anti-racism training. The video asked voters to reject FACT's proposal, and many at the meeting believed the video contained vague accusations of racism in an attempt to distract voters from FACT. The video also pointed to an unnamed tennis coach, who appeared to reference Stahl, for unspecified problematic behavior.

The video has been removed, but Williams has since shared a letter to Chilmark residents asking whether Mr. Stahl's disrespectful behavior contributed to the 2023 firing of Kiera Lapsley, the executive director of the community center camp.

“[The video] implies that we are at best regressive and at worst racist,” Max Simon said on Sunday.

Lazarus told residents that CTAC did not approve the video or assist in its production. But she did say she had provided photos of camp counselors and children used in the video, adding that such photos had previously been used in the public domain without objection.

Simon also read a list of 11 CTAC board members he said have resigned in the past 18 months, adding that two more, Chris Fischer and Ben Lillenthal, resigned on Saturday.

Lazarus did not respond directly to the list of resignation requests and did not comment when asked whether some in the community had called for her to resign. However, she said on Sunday that FACT has made the board's work very difficult.

“Each board member has experienced a lot of pressure, which has questioned the board's decisions and divided the board,” she said.

In another point of contention during the Sunday meeting, a letter circulated accusing Lazarus of rescinding a job offer to Troy Lawson, the executive director of the community center's 2023 summer camp, to return to the position this summer.

“[M]”I had the strong impression that she withdrew my offer because I did not share her negative view of Eddie and would not be an asset to her in that regard,” Lawson's letter said.

“There is definitely a misunderstanding because there was never an offer,” Lazarus said, adding that Lawson was not rehired because he has teaching commitments in California, and therefore would not have been able to serve all summer .

Several former and current CTAC board members also criticized the community center and the city council on Sunday. Nancy Grundman, who resigned from the board in August 2022, called for better representation, transparency, inclusion and accountability.

“We are so saddened to see today's CCC silencing community voices and centralizing power and decision-making among a small elite group on the CTAC board,” Grundman said.

Current board member Heather Quinn stated that she felt left out, noting that she is one of three city residents who serve on the board year-round.

“It's a group that I have consistently felt marginalized from. And to be honest, I've sometimes wondered if it was because I was living in an affordable house in Chilmark instead of a second one,” she said.

Quinn also called for further discussion and collaboration to resolve people's concerns with CTAC, rather than moving forward with the town meeting vote.

Community center director Andrien also spoke out on Sunday against FACT's proposal and business plan for a city tennis committee.

“The proposal is not good,” she said. The cost figures in the plan are seriously understated. It costs twice as much to staff the tennis program for the nine weeks in the summer [FACT] have estimated for the entire year.'

Lazarus and Andrien also shared several steps they had taken on Sunday to better meet the needs of the community. These include establishing counselor-in-training and leadership programs for teen employees, hiring a tennis operations manager to oversee planning, staffing and purchasing, and forming a capital improvement and maintenance committee to provide oversight on improvements to the facilities.

Andrien added that she is working to resolve pay issues where boys were paid higher than girls, and some consultants were paid below the minimum wage in 2021.

Andrien also said she was open to forming a committee to meet the needs of the tennis community and wanted to provide year-round tennis programming.

Stahl, who was at the community tennis courts Monday and who works with the youth who attend the tennis programs each summer, said the debate has been divisive in the community.

“I just think it's disappointing that working here with kids, and doing after-school care with kids, and advocating for the kids for years, that something like this has to happen in our community,” he said.




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