Coogan, Rizzo appointed to building committee

Geoghan Coogan was appointed the high school building committee by the Tisbury select board Wednesday night.

Updated Nov. 4

Tisbury’s two-member select board appointed Geoghan Coogan and Sally Rizzo to the burgeoning high school building committee Wednesday night. Coogan and Rizzo beat out architect James Moffit and Ben Robinson, who practices architecture but isn’t a licensed architect. 

Coogan, a Vineyard Haven attorney, former select board member, and coach of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School girl’s hockey team, told the board he previously went to the high school, and has two daughters there now as freshmen. 

Coogan said he doesn’t have history with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), “but what I do have a history of is sitting in my office every day working with people — I do it as a lawyer every day — I negotiate a lot of things. I have a lot of people and communications skills that I think could bring something good to the table up there.” 

Coogan didn’t mention his coaching position to the board, nor did he disclose that chair Roy Cutrer’s wife, Jennifer Cutrer, is Coogan’s longtime paralegal. Likewise, Cutrer didn’t declare this ahead of his vote. 

Reached Thursday, Cutrer said, “I made a mistake.”

While he saw no way he could benefit from such a connection, Cutrer said as soon as the meeting was over, he said to himself, “Dang it,” about his wife’s connection to the appointment. 

Cutrer, whose own employment at Tisbury School and whose wife’s membership on the Tisbury School committee were brought up during the recent discussion of additional funds for that building project, said Coogan was the most qualified candidate, and that’s why he voted for him. Cutrer said he had no ulterior motive for the vote. “I don’t have a malevolent bone in my body,” he said. 

In an email, Coogan took umbrage at the notion that his appointment to the committee could potentially trigger a financial- or influence-based conflict. “We get paid a tiny stipend by the school to spend countless hours, not just during our seasons but year-round, to support our student athletes,” he wrote. “Teaching them a game, but more importantly helping them become better people. What it does allow us is an insight into the high school dynamics, and how the building and facilities impact our student athletes.”

Coogan also took issue with reference to his paralegal. “Jen Cutrer has been my paralegal for the last 20 years, and before that she worked for my father. Jen is a member of the Tisbury School Committee. I raised my hand to be considered for a committee on behalf of the town of Tisbury for the REGIONAL high school. I sat on the zoning board of appeals and the select board for the town of Tisbury, again two volunteer positions, to give back to the town I grew up in.”

Coogan wrote that he has opted to be a volunteer again, and suggested he’s been subjected to a “smear” for his efforts.

Rizzo, former chair of the Newton School committee and a former candidate for Tisbury town administrator, told the board she was “very familiar” with the MSBA because of her past employment with the Massachusetts state treasurer’s office. Rizzo said she was “extremely frustrated” when the Tisbury School project failed in 2018. Rizzo called the project afoot now “a less desirable building.”

Rizzo was at the center of a 2020 Open Meeting Law violation in Tisbury. The violation stemmed from an agenda topic labeled “other” for the now-defunct Tisbury natural resources committee. “Other” wound up being a full-blown discussion of a topic, the attorney general’s Division of Open Government asserted in its determination. The discussion subject was the expansion of the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard. The division felt that the subject should have been reasonably anticipated by chair Sally Rizzo. The committee told the division, per the determination, that Rizzo was only going to make an announcement, and the discussion that ensued was unanticipated. The division disagreed. 

Asked if she should have disclosed the violation ahead of her appointment, Rizzo said, “Not really,” because town counsel handled the matter. Rizzo described the former natural resources committee as an “unwieldy” amalgamation of other committees, each with their own interests — too many interests, she asserted. 

Rizzo said she’s not heard about when the high school building committee will first convene, but the subject is on the MVRHS school committee’s agenda for Monday night. 

In a follow-up voicemail to The Times, Rizzo said the Open Meeting Law complaint had “no bearing” on her appointment to the committee. She emphasized the issue was “resolved,” and was “in the past.”

When asked about Rizzo’s part in an Open Meeting Law violation,Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande said, “I didn’t bring it up” at the meeting. Asked if he should have mentioned it to the board, Grande said, “No.”

While the four candidates were listed on the agenda under “appointment(s)” for Wednesday’s meeting, Grande said he felt like they were more like “recommendations” made to the high school committee, and that committee was responsible for making the actual appointments.

Updated to correct information about Robinson’s professional licensure and to include additional material.


  1. Is Mr. Robinson a licensed architect? When did that happen? According to the Bluedotliving article July 30, 2021 profiling Ben and Betsy at Barnhouse, “We called the ad’s number, and have lived here for about six months a year ever since”. …..”Ben who is a planner and designer, helps to oversee the maintenance of the buildings.”. Please correct your article.

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