To the Editor:
It is head-spinning for island taxpayers to watch and try to understand what is happening within the MVRHS school committee regarding spending on the artificial turf lawsuit, and what will happen next. This is particularly true since their three meetings in the past eight days have been held mostly behind closed doors.
Here is a review of the volatile one-year timeline on the turf lawsuit spending issue:
May 2022: High school committee voted 5-4 to impose a “cap” on turf lawsuit spending to $30,000 from the FY23 budget;
April 3, 2023: High school committee voted 5-4 to lift the “cap” on turf lawsuit spending from the FY23 budget, thereby removing all limits and accountability as the legal case proceeds;
April 11, 2023: West Tisbury voted at town meeting to deny the MVRHS FY24 budget assessment and to demand zero spending on the turf lawsuit;
April 24, 2023: Chilmark voted at town meeting to deny the MVRHS FY24 budget assessment and to demand zero spending on the turf lawsuit;
April 25, 2023: Tisbury voted at town meeting to pass the MVRHS FY24 budget, but demanded by resolution zero spending on the turf lawsuit;
May 1, 2023: MVRHS school committee met and, after a closed door session, announced that they have asked the lawyers to engage with Oak Bluffs planning board to discuss resolution of the lawsuit;
May 5, 2023: MVRHS school committee met and, after a closed door session:
(1) announced again that they have asked their lawyers to engage in “settlement” discussions with opposing counsel;
(2) passed unanimously a motion to establish a new “cap” on the turf lawsuit spending to all the money left in the FY23 legal budget line; and
(3) passed in a 5-4 vote to “cap” the FY24 budget spending on the turf lawsuit at ZERO;
May 8, 2023: MVRHS school committee met and, after they emerged from another closed door session, Susan Murphy, the chair of the Chilmark finance committee, asked pro-turf members why they had opposed “zero-capping” the FY24 budget at their May 5th meeting. They declined to explain their reasons.
“We don’t want to tell you and we don’t have to,” was essentially their response to Susan’s question.
Yes, you heard right, our elected representatives on a public board refused to explain their positions on an issue of pressing island-wide significance. Despite their protestations to the contrary, it is precisely their job to make decisions on islanders’ behalf and then tell us why. This is how representative government works, as we learned in high school civics class. That is how voters know if our representatives are reflecting our values so we can decide whether to reelect them, or not. Their positions on important matters are supposed to be public — not secret. Our democratic process requires them to explain themselves, it does not shield them from accountability.
This is particularly true at this moment.
Aquinnah voters — in the dark about what the school committee will do, or not do, moving forward — must go to town meeting tonight to decide whether to join West Tisbury and Chilmark to vote down their budget assessment for the FY24 MVRHS budget. If they do so, the budget goes back to the high school committee for amendment and recertification in accordance with the issues raised by four towns. If Aquinnah does not vote down the high school budget, we will have to wait until town meetings next spring to have our voices heard. By then it will be too late as we may well have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the lawsuit.