A controversy over management of the Chilmark Community Center and the town tennis courts continued to roil the small up-Island town this weekend.

A forum Sunday morning about the town meeting petition to reorganize the town tennis program quickly grew contentious.

Organized by the Chilmark Town Affairs Council, the nonprofit which controls programming at the Chilmark Community Center, the forum was also attended by community members associated with the Friends and Associates of Chilmark Tennis organization, who have proposed a town meeting warrant article to separate the tennis courts from the council’s jurisdiction.

A flash-point issue centers on longtime Chilmark tennis pro Eddie Stahl, who members of the town tennis community feel is under threat of not having his contract renewed for the camp this summer.  

Discussion Sunday quickly broadened, however, as town residents highlighted perceived issues of lack of transparency and lack of engagement among leadership of the Chilmark Town Affairs Council.

 “We haven’t been dealt with in good faith,” said Max Simon, a member of the tennis friends group, whose speech was met with applause.

According to Mr. Simon, 13 members of the Chilmark Town Affairs Council’s board of directors have stepped down over the last 18 months. Two of them, he said, Chris Fischer and Ben Lilienthal, stepped down yesterday over a YouTube video asking voters not to support the tennis group’s citizen petition.

“It was despicable,” Mr. Simon said, of the video. “It implies that we in [the Friends and Associates of Chilmark Tennis] are regressive at best and racist at worst.”

The video, entitled CCC Decision 2024, was produced by Kyle Williams, a seasonal Oak Bluffs resident and chief empowerment officer at an anti-racism nonprofit, A Long Talk.

Mr. Williams has previously led diversity and equity trainings for the Chilmark Town Affairs Council and the Chilmark Community Center summer camp.

Chilmark Town Affairs Council chair Suellen Lazarus speaks to residents. — Thomas Humphrey

Chilmark Town Affairs Council chair Suellen Lazarus said the board was not involved in the development of the video, but that they were aware that Mr. Williams was making a video and provided images of the camp for him to use.

“We know that people are very upset by the video prepared by Kyle Williams,” Ms. Lazarus said during Sunday’s meeting. “We fully understand that, and we’re concerned about it....We asked it to be taken down as soon as we saw it.”

The video, which centered on the impact of a 2021 incident concerning an eight-year-old black child and two white boys at the camp, has been taken down.

Since the 2021 incident, the Chilmark Town Affairs Council has hired three different executive directors for the summer camp program, the umbrella under which the summer tennis program operates.

Ms. Lazarus, a seasonal Island resident and founder of the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival, attributed some of that high turnover to issues with the tennis group. In early 2023, she said, executive director Kiera Lapsley decided to resign following community backlash over her hiring decision of a youth-tennis pro.

Ms. Lazarus said friction with the tennis program also led to the departure of a previous executive director, Alexandra London-Thompson, in 2021. 

Betsy Burnett, a member of the tennis community who spoke on Sunday, countered this trend by reading out a letter from the 2023 camp executive director, Troy Lawson. In his letter, Mr. Lawson wrote that he intended to return to the job this summer, but that Ms. Lazarus had revoked the job offer she previously extended.  

“Shortly after I accepted the position, Suellen called me again...and surprised me by telling me she was rescinding the offer I had already accepted,” Mr. Lawson wrote. “My strong impression was that she rescinded my offer because I did not share her negative views of Eddie [Stahl].”

Ms. Lazarus disputed his letter, saying that she had never extended him an offer, and emphasized the conflict between his commitments at the camp and as a teacher in California.  

Recently hired Chilmark Community Center summer camp executive director Susan Pimentel Andrien. — Thomas Humphrey

“There is certainly a misunderstanding, because there was never an offer,” she said. “He is certainly mischaracterizing his desire to return.”

This summer, longtime seasonal Island resident Susan Pimentel Andrien will be taking over the position.

Ms. Andrien spoke at the forum Sunday, emphasizing work she has done with community engagement, while also speaking out strongly against the tennis petition.

“This would divide us forever” she said. “The center would never be the same.”

Ms. Andrien declined several times to comment on whether Mr. Stahl would be hired again as tennis pro for the summer, saying she could not speak about personnel issues.

Past and current members of the Chilmark town affairs council board also spoke at the forum.

Nancy Grundman, a previous member of the town affairs council board, said that she stepped down from the board in 2022 due in part because she felt her viewpoints in favor of the tennis community were being dismissed. Ms. Grundman is married to Jay Grossman, one of the founders of Friends and Associates of Chilmark Tennis.

“I felt like I wasn’t being listened to,” she said. “The [Chilmark Communtity Center] of today is silencing community voices and centralizing power and decision making among the small elite on the [Chilmark Town Affairs Council] board.”

Heather Quinn, a current member of the board and the early childhood program director for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, spoke in favor of the tennis group, while also raising concerns about Chilmark Town Affairs Council leadership.

“I have felt consistently marginalized,” she said. “To be honest, I have wondered at times if it is because I live in an affordable home in Chilmark, instead of a second one.”

After more than an hour and a half of discussion, Ms. Andrien drew the meeting to a close, prompting boos from the crowd.

Chilmark voters will get a chance to weigh in on the tennis article during town meeting at the Chilmark Community Center on Tuesday, April 23, beginning at 7 p.m.