Chilmark officials await report on community center incident

Select board defers votes on outdoor mask mandate and vaccine requirements for town employees.

The select board is still waiting on a report from the Chilmark Town Affairs Council on the incident that took place at the Chilmark Community Center involving three young boys. — Rich Saltzberg

The Chilmark select board provided a brief update during its Tuesday meeting on an incident that occurred at a Chilmark Community Center summer camp in which two white boys placed a tent strap around the neck of an African-American boy in their group. 

The board was expecting a report from Jeff Herman, the head of the Chilmark Town Affairs Council (CTAC), the group that runs the summer camp, but select board member Warren Doty was made aware that Herman was attending to a family emergency.

Doty noted that the CTAC has no staff that can contribute to the report, and all the work is done by the volunteer board. “We put that report on hold for another two or three days,” he said.

“I will say that the CTAC has taken this incident very seriously, and has spent many hours interviewing all the people involved,” he added. “The community center is working very hard on getting us a complete report.”

During a joint meeting with the board of health, the select board also deferred two discussions related to an outdoor mask mandate in Menemsha and mandating vaccines for town employees. 

Doty said he is concerned about the spike in COVID cases on-Island, and suggested reinstituting an outdoor mask policy in Menemsha.

Although select board chair Bill Rossi said he would support the idea and prefers to err on the side of caution, he didn’t entirely agree with an outdoor mask mandate.

Edgartown health agent Matt Poole said a mask mandate helps during the daylight hours in retail settings, particularly in food service. But there would be no way to legitimately enforce an outdoor mask policy, and “taking it anything beyond a gesture is going to be really difficult.”

“You have to pick your battles, and I’m not sure an outdoor mask mandate in Menemsha is where we want to put our time and energy,” Poole continued.

Select board member Jim Malkin said enforcement was difficult last summer. Apart from some signage, banners, and education provided by citizen volunteers, there isn’t anything the town can realistically do to enforce a mandate.

Malkin said no other towns have instituted outdoor mandates, and suggested taking no action until a future meeting, when officials can consider where the numbers are.

The select board also decided to put off a discussion on vaccine requirements for town employees until the board of health meets, as only one board of health member was present at the meeting. Malkin said other towns are considering a vaccination policy, but so far no one has made the official decision apart from West Tisbury and Aquinnah. 

He noted that there are some emails from the board of health saying that at this point, they do not recommend a vaccine mandate for town employees.

Doty said he hasn’t received any emails from the board of health, so Malkin suggested recirculating the email and letting the board review it, then consider it at the next meeting.

Rossi agreed, and said he thinks it’s best to wait for the board of health before making a decision.

Chilmark library director Ebba Hierta said this issue is very pressing, particularly because she is working on hiring new employees, and without a vaccination mandate from the town and the board of health, it puts her in a “very difficult position.”

“I cannot imagine bringing an unvaccinated person into an enclosed area to spend the day with a number of employees who have specific vulnerabilities, their own medical conditions, or very serious vulnerabilities of family members at home,” Heirta said. “I have thought hard about ways that I could dance around this in an interview, but without a mandate from the town, I’m not sure how I can legally raise that. I think all the lawyers in the room will understand when I say that when you start dancing you risk tripping, and I would risk putting the town at a liability risk.”

If she were to bring an unvaccinated person onto the library staff, Hierta said some of her employees would ask to work from home — creating a need to limit services “if we would be able to provide them at all.”

The board chose to defer the vote and join the board of health at their next meeting to discuss the issue.