A longstanding and heated controversy over the management of the Chilmark Community Center’s summer tennis program continued to divide the up-Island town at Tuesday evening’s annual town meeting.

Meeting-floor modifications to the warrant led to a compromise solution, still leaving aspects of the issue unresolved.

It was one of the most well-attended town meetings in recent memory, with 272 people crowding into the community center. By the time moderator Janet Weidner called it to order at 7:18 p.m., seating in the main room had been filled, and more chairs had to be set up on the stage behind town officials.

Town moderator Janet Wiedner (far left at the podium) will appoint a new committee. — Ray Ewing

The meeting also drew a crowd of non-resident observers who packed in behind the voters, causing some commotion during the tennis debate before Ms. Weidner asked them to refrain from making noise.

After Ms. Weidner called the meeting to order, voters sped through the first 31 articles on the warrant, approving all of them, mostly by unanimous decision with no discussion.

The crowd had mostly come to discuss Article 32, a citizen petition proposing a new town tennis program and committee which would remove the town-owned courts from the jurisdiction of the private nonprofit Chilmark Town Affairs Council (CTAC).

The article has been proposed by the Friends and Associates of Chilmark Tennis group, but on the floor of town meeting, Jay Grossman, a founding member of the tennis friends group, withdrew the bylaw.

“To many in the non-tennis playing community, the proposed bylaw has been a bridge too far,” Mr. Grossman said. “I’ve come to agree that our proposed bylaw is an ill-fitting Band-Aid to a much bigger problem...I think enough heat has been shed on this subject. Now it is time to shed light.”

In lieu of a new tennis committee, Mr. Grossman instead proposed a resolution to create a seven-member committee to investigate over the course of a year CTAC’s operations of the community center, and draft a report for the select board.

“Our beloved community center, an institution that has shaped so many of our lives and continues to be the vital heartbeat of our community, seems to have lost its way,” Mr. Grossman said.

Mr. Grossman’s resolution also asked that CTAC retain last year’s tennis staff, including tennis pro Eddie Stahl, for this summer. The prospect of Mr. Stahl not being rehired has been a major flash-point for the issue.

“We’re hoping this will be an olive branch,” Mr. Grossman said of the resolution.

But though the discussion began with a proposed compromise, the tone among speakers during the evening was tense, with partisans on both sides of the issue making impassioned speeches.

“This whole issue, frankly, is an embarrassment to the town,” said select board member Jim Malkin, who said he felt the controversy was “essentially a personnel issue.”

Jan Buhrman, meanwhile, said the issue went beyond personalities.

“It is about power...and it’s extremely embarrassing for this town,” she said.

An amendment was proposed to Mr. Grossman’s resolution that would remove the stipulation about tennis program staffing. The amendment drew extensive debate, shifting the discussion to the narrower issue of Mr. Stahl’s rehiring.

Susan Murphy, speaking in favor of the amendment, said that a town meeting vote should not be involved in personnel decisions.

“No person...should have the influence to hold up the entire process that has happened for the last 68 years,” she said. “It is up to CTAC, however unpopular and polarizing the current leader may be, to make those decisions.”

Ms. Murphy also encouraged voters to see the bigger picture.

“Life goes on, whether or not your favorite tennis pro is the teacher,” she said.

The amendment eventually passed by a vote of 128 for to 83 against. Voters subsequently approved another amendment, removing a line which gave the seven-member committee power to resolve disputes between CTAC and the tennis community this summer.

As the debate shifted to the creation of the new committee, many residents highlighted issues pertaining to CTAC’s organizational structure, along with a perceived lack of transparency.

“Tennis is the tip of the iceberg,” said Jessica Mason. “Something needs to be done, we have no other recourse.”

Thomas Bena, a former member of the CTAC board of directors, said that Islander perspectives are often marginalized among board leadership.

“I was the token Islander for a season. It’s what it felt like. It really did,” he said.

“It’s time for a review,” added Rebecca Haag, who said that the town was being put at risk by a nonprofit which “does not have good governance.”

“It’s time to do it now,” she said.

The resolution to create the seven-member committee passed with a strong majority. The committee will be appointed by town moderator Janet Wiedner, with the goal of drafting a report on the community center operations for the select board.

Also on the town meeting agenda, an article to raise the short-term rental tax from 4 to 6 per cent was approved, amending it to require that all new funds from the tax increase be committed to the town’s affordable housing trust.

“Every dime we can pull back and direct to affordable housing is a dime in the right direction,” said Chris Murphy.

Voters also approved a $14.4 million dollar budget and a series of minor funding articles.

Earlier in the evening, residents honored two longtime officials, giving a rousing round of applause for outgoing select board member Bill Rossi and retiring Chilmark school principal Susan Stevens.

Town voters reconvene at the polls today, from noon to 8 p.m., for the annual town election.