School committee using private donations to fund turf lawsuit

39
The proposed turf field — Huntress Associates Inc.

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School agreed to use private donations to fund its lawsuit against the town of Oak Bluffs and its planning board over a synthetic turf field.

The committee met Thursday to discuss paying an outstanding bill of $1,952.60 to school attorney Brian Winner. 

The school is appealing an Oak Bluffs planning board decision to reject its proposed turf field at the high school. The board rejected the project over concerns about PFAS getting into the groundwater.

On Thursday, MVRHS finance manager Suzanne Cioffi told the committee it had received two donations for legal expenses relating to the lawsuit. One was an anonymous donation of $2,000, and the other was of $3,000 from Islander Regis Nepomuceno and unnamed friends. 

Committee member Skip Manter shared that he would be uncomfortable accepting donations to pay a past expenditure that the committee had taken upon itself, calling it “poor fiscal practice.” He also said that he would instead be comfortable accepting the money for future legal expenses.

However, after M.V. Public Schools finance manager Mark Friedman told the committee that he was confident that they could, by majority vote, appropriate the donated money to pay the bill, multiple members were receptive to the idea. 

“We should accept the $5,000 with gratitude,” committee member Kris O’Brien said.

Manter also remarked that the school would, of course, have to pay Winner for his services. “If we don’t pay the $1,900, we’ll pay when he sues [us],” he said.

At Thursday’s school committee meeting, the motion to use the donated money to pay Winner passed 6-1-1, with Robert Lionette voting against the motion, and Roxanne Ackerman abstaining.

“There must be a strategy if the committee is to keep engaging with Winner,” Lionette said. “How long, and to what end?” 

In response, committee member Michael Watts shared points from a conversation between himself and Winner. “[Winner] is well aware of our limitations,” said Watts, adding that Winner’s obligations to the school are for now set to end when Winner forwards the decision of Judge Kevin Smith, which is currently pending. 

“Beyond that, we’d have to meet with him and give him guidance,” Watts said.

The committee then passed a motion that its current engagement with Winner would not extend past Winner forwarding Judge Smith’s decision. The committee would have to vote again to re-engage Winner after that point.

The school committee, after a contentious round of town meetings in the spring, voted to allocate no funding in the current fiscal year’s budget to the lawsuit. 

Also during the contentious town meetings, while approving the school’s budget, voters in Aquinnah, West Tisbury, and Chilmark voted for nonbinding resolutions to ask the school not to accept anonymous donations over $5,000.

The committee also plans to request an extension from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for approval to work on the turf field, as its current approval is set to expire on August 27. In discussing how much of an extension to ask for, M.V. Public Schools Superintendent Richie Smith noted that the longer the extension the school asks for, the less likely approval will be.

The committee then passed a motion for Smith to request a two-year extension at the next full committee meeting of the commission on August 3, with that extension set to expire in 2026 if approved.

39 COMMENTS

  1. Ok — last week On the article about “school committee clashes over funding”
    https://www.mvtimes.com/2023/07/13/school-committee-clashes-litigation-funding/
    I stated that the school board members who have been spending serious taxpayer money to put a 500 thousand pound piece of unsafe toxic plastic on the grounds of our high school were “pants on fire liars”.
    Someone took offense to that comment.
    So I apologized , and reduced my “pants on fire ” rating to “one Pinocchio”.
    But as I read this, it seems I have been duped.
    This is much worse than “pants on fire” lying.
    This is the deliberate manipulation of a population of people who want to believe what their elected officials tell them.
    I am deeply offended that these public officials continue to lie through their teeth and continue this absurd lawsuit.
    Yeah, I know– “but it’s private donations” they will say, as if that makes any difference.
    Are there “private donations” going to mitigate the cost to the taxpayers of O.B ?
    Who are these anonymous people, and what is their motivation ? it certainly is not for the safety of the athletes, as numerous studies have shown higher levels of injuries on turf fields as compared to properly maintained natural grass fields.
    https://www.uhhospitals.org/for-clinicians/articles-and-news/articles/2019/08/artificial-turf-versus-natural-grass
    I am disgusted that the school committee legally lost in their ridiculous quest for this ridiculous field, but still continue to defend their fragile ego’s and refuse to admit defeat.
    And really, it’s all about the ego of 5 people who seem to have the authority to waste tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money.
    All I can do is comment here, and cast my vote to remove them later.
    If, when you attended your town meetings last spring, and voted to symbolically withhold funding for the school budget over this issue– remember the names of the elected officials who have betrayed your trust, and actually vote them out of office.

    • Oh my. Again with this article. Did you point out the section about the benefits of turf fields and the last 3 paragraphs? No. That is a misuse of of information to scare people. This researcher concluded that more education should go into the proper use of footware for athletes who play on turf. This article did not conclude playing on turf was unsafe for student athletes as you would lead the public to believe.

      • Grant– read the first 3 paragraphs–
        Yes– better footwear can reduce injuries on either surface–
        Tell your kid when they are in the hospital getting ACL surgery and facing weeks of pain, physical therapy and walking with crutches that it’s ok because the school board is perhaps saving a few bucks on maintenance for an unsafe field.
        You gotta be kidding me that you read the article I linked to and came to your conclusion .

    • I thought the townspeople dont have the vote on school projects. It is the Board. I might be wrong but I thought that the turf field or not is not a vote for the general public.

      • andy– you are correct– this is not an issue that should go to the voters– But since the pro turf people keep claiming that the antiturf’s are a minority, I say lets find out. We could do a non binding vote–. Their inability to accept a decision by the ob board, and willful denial of the obvious opinion of the majority of the people who live here is pretty bizzarro.

        • Keller, we could do that but of course the minority is usually correct on most things because people are dumb on important stuff wouldnt you agree?

          • andy– I’m not sure people are actually as dumb as they are willfully ignorant.
            And no, I don’t agree that the minority are usually correct on important things.
            A minority of people think vaccines cause autism
            A minority of people think trump won the 2020 election
            A minority of people think the earth is 6,000 years old
            A minority of people think the moon landing was fake
            A minority of people think climate change is a hoax
            A minority of people think the government deliberately imploded
            the world trade center.
            A minority of people think a 500,000 piece of plastic at our high
            school is a good idea.
            I won’t say that all those people are “dumb, but they certainly incorrect.

          • Don, show me the proof that the “minority” think the turf field is a good idea? It is truly a minority who voted to not fund the school if they didn’t get their way, 250 people out of over 17,000 is not exactly a majority. To me, 250 is clearly a minority. In addition, of the votes that have been taken a majority voted for the turf field. It wasn’t even a majority at the planning board that got it denied, it was a 50/50 vote. The other vote that was taken at the planning board was a 3-1 vote to approve the field, that vote for even included the chairman voting for the field. Lastly, the only other vote was taken at the MVC where it was a 10-6 vote to approve the project. So, I guess all of these people, who just don’t agree with you, are wrong. Hmmm pretty bold of you.

      • Newsflash, it is the townspeople who vote for the School Committee.
        You are wrong, the field is voted on by the general public through the elected School Committee.
        That is how things work in a democracy,
        If we were a true Republic the School Committee would not be controlled by the general public, there would be some kind of Electoral College thingy that would tell us who our School Committee members will be, kind of like the 2016 Presidential election.
        That did not happen 2020.
        The guy who got the most votes is in the White House.
        The guy who came in second spends his days on the phone with lawyers, showing classified documents to his acolytes.
        And sometimes he goes into muddy fields to harangue small groups wearing God awful Red, White and Blue get ups.
        The American flags fashioned into string bikinis are to die for.
        The array of pimped out American flags with the gold fringe and tassels are truly disgusting.

  2. Is there a conflict of interest here? Is an anonymous doner trying to force monetary hardship onto the town by keeping this law suit running?

  3. so..wow..this is still..ok, well! super NOT surprised that this debate started when my son was a freshmen at MVRHS, and he is now 23. fully ten years! sometimes, i read things and sort of cull from the op-eds and comments and letters, to try and figure out SOME kind of..meaning? context? relevancy? and attribute them to the topic in question. sometimes, i am just stymied by what becomes important to the people here..this place where i am from, where i live now, where i raised my child. this particular topic, i am not particularly in favor of, nor have i been, since 2013! FIGURE IT OUT. DO BETTER. these are our CHILDREN. and speaking of our young ones, lawns, and places where sports abound..i took a ride by Vet’s Field last week, as i have several times this year. it looks like..well, it looks like there was a really big music festival or something there, and someone forgot they promised to make it better for our incoming school children that will be needing it! and just like EVERY SINGLE YEAR, in most of the free world, AND even HERE, the 1st day of school is the day after Labor Day..it goes back to cave drawings, ancient scrolls, and even through the oral stories of our earliest ancestors! yet, they tripped over uneven sod, coughed up dry dirt, and gave moms and dads triple the laundry trying to get the mud out of soccer, baseball, and basketball uniforms from last year. so, THIS year, guess what? 9 days after the last day of the Beach Road Weekend, school begins!! Adam promised last year, right in this paper, that he would take care of the field tout suites (!!) after last year’s crowd trampled it into something reminiscent of the old west. new sod! all organic! better than before! ugh. for an actual Islander, it’s just offensive to hear/read promises bandied about BEFORE anything happens, and then after, everyone else gets to go home. our kids have to bear the brunt of the ruins that remain. maybe some deal could be parlayed between MVRHS and Vet’s and Adam? i’d absolutely LOVE to sit in on THAT meeting! (if i could clear an entire 18 hour day for it.) THIS year, dear Adam, if you intend to leave Vet’s like the set of a Jack Palance flick, i really MUST insist you consider donating to some locals that could REALLY use the money..the white, sand tiger, hammerhead, porbeagle, and sandbar sharks that inhabit the waters that surround our lovely locale, providing us with 50% of our oxygen! every second breath that you take, is on account of our gracious underwater allies; some travel from Florida or even Australia, like our own summer visitors. some, like the porbeagle, stay year round (if only everyone knew how amazing that visit from the porbeagle in VH harbor last winter was!! they are called the “ghost shark”, because they are so shy, and are usually in very deep waters, impossible to find!). i will be tagging sandbar sharks off Wasque next month, a vital component to making sure that capitalists the world over don’t scoop them up in vast plastic netting, cutting their lovely, immense dorsal fins off, and tossing the rest of the carcass over the side to suffocate on the bottom. animals cannot breathe without oxygen on land, under the ocean, or up in the air. please check out https://sheshark.org/ for more info! better yet, IT’S AN ISLAND!! DONATE to the creatures who will be sustaining LIFE ITSELF for your customers..in REAL TIME!! (exciting!!) and..MVRHS, Skip..just..take the money. or don’t. if you think you are having a rough go, try doing shark conservation on the island where they filmed “Jaws”. Azi~

    • Azi– I agree with you that a decision about the football field needs to happen.
      But I was at veterans park a few days ago, and I actually think it looked pretty good.
      But I guess it’s in the eye of the beholder. Yeah, it’s not golf course perfect and some of the grass is a little brown, but it has few ruts and holes. I didn’t find any actually.
      I also agree that we need to take care of our oceans and the creatures that inhabit them.
      But fish , just like every creature in the animal kingdom breath oxygen, and “exhale” carbon dioxide. The significant amounts of oxygen the oceans produce comes from the creatures in the plant kingdom. Just like on land.

  4. This begs the question of why the Superintendent and School Committee would even ask for an extension on the MV Commission approval when clearly the majority of island voters are opposed to a turf field. One has to wonder about the integrity and intentions of committee members who are in favor of the project, who have gone to such lengths to push this through and are frivolously spending taxpayer dollars and now, donations, in litigation. One has to wonder why our “so called” neighbors and elected officials on the AISC, have such little regard for PFAS pollution of groundwater, and the health and welfare of their constituents. Hmmmm….

    • Where do you get “ clearly the majority of island voters are opposed to a turf field.” See me comment to Don above. 250 voters on the island made a decision to not fund the high school over the appeal. There has never been a public vote about the project. Please don’t speculate and say things there are clearly misleading. Of the votes taken on the boards who voted, the majority have been to approve the field. Count them 3-1 on the original planning board vote, 5-4 on the school committee, 2-2 planning board not yo approve the special permit, and 10-6 at the MVC. Clearly the majority of votes have been for the field. Look it up.

  5. One publicly funded body accepting private donations to fund its suit against another publicly funded body (or two)? This is unsettling. Is there any statewide ethics watchdog that might have an opinion about this? It’s not hard to imagine donors with deep pockets making it unnecessary to obtain public support for possibly controversial programs.

  6. I have an annual subscription for MVTimes delivered to my mailbox. I am wondering why I am having difficulty accessing MVTimes online.

    Thanks for your assistance.

    Bob Moore
    PO Box 1231
    West Tisbury, MA 02575

    • I also have a problem accessing online. My wife and I both read the MV Times, but it seems like it only allows one device to login.

      Duncan Connall
      Vineyard Haven

  7. Is that legal? One would think it is something that should be paid by MVRHS funds. Please, just go forward and make a natural grass field. The pros and the colleges have been abandoning turf because of physical and brain injuries!

  8. Patty, the legality of accepting anonymous private donations to fund a lawsuit, a frivolous one, by a regional high school against its host town is under careful scrutiny. But remember, the “legality” of proper conduct by public officials is the very LOWEST bar that must be met. The “right thing to do” is the bar the five school committee members should be seeking to attain. Listening to the community is what they have pledged to do, but they seem to think that is optional.

    Indeed, the school committee member from Tisbury heard from his own taxpayers (voting unanimously at town meeting) to end spending on the lawsuit. Does he think they wanted him to go full steam ahead by funding the artificial turf suit with anonymous donations? Maybe they do not want the lawsuit at all? Maybe they want grass? Does he care?

    To quote the wise Don Keller: “If, when you attended your town meetings last spring, and voted to symbolically withhold funding for the school budget over this issue– remember the names of the elected officials who have betrayed your trust, and actually vote them out of office.”

    • Always wonder what the good folks in Chilmark are doing to rid the island aquifer of the largest turf installation on the island?

      We will all suffer from this toxic installation.

      https://abelshillassociation.com/tennis-rules

      Micro plastic monitoring downhill in the ponds and pfas monitoring? Local wells?

      I am also going to recommend that the high school committee bans our athletes from playing on off island toxic plastic turf fields. As noted in the comments, it is not safe. They are not listening and we need to take appropriate action and protect the kids.

      I am hopeful that all island sport groups at the youth level embrace this as well. I saw all those pictures on the field fund website. Why did they allow those kids to step on the field.

      • Allen– interesting comment– I looked at your link —
        I didn’t see anything about plastic turf– but ok– let’s say it’s plastic — you seem to know, and I don’t . But we both know it is much harder to regulate private entities than it is to regulate public entities.
        You have some good points here, but your comment to ban Vineyard students from playing on plastic turf in other towns is —–I don’t know– fill in the Mad lib–

        • Why not take a stand? If it is as dangerous as you say it is and the article you referenced states, then why don’t you expect the youth leagues and high school committee to protect those who are not legally of age to make those decisions. Why don’t those who bring heat guns to fields refuse to coach under those conditions. It seems to me that it is only important if it fits a narrative but not if it actually means taking action outside one field on an island. Sounds like NIMBYism.

          • Chris– all sorts of things that people do are dangerous. As a parent , you can only hope for the best, and try to mitigate the risk where you can. Of course, any student who feels it is too dangerous can decline playing on an unsafe field, and parents have the final say in most cases.

    • Vicki
      Lets be honest the people opposed to a turf field have been trying to defund the school committee ever since the votes in West Tisbury & Aquinnah to freeze the E & D funds.
      Both west Tisbury & Aquinnah voted to keep funding the push for improving the fields.
      Those were true votes not straw ballots.

      • Terry–The voters in both W.T & Aquinnah voted to stop the lawsuit– That’s pretty clear and simple. They knew that if the school board dropped the suit, the push for the poison field would end, and the school would put in a grass field.
        After the school board lied to them, and promised to stop funding the lawsuit, they voted to approve the budget for the education of our children.
        To somehow twist that factual series of events to make it seem they voted for the poison field is beyond absurd.

  9. The voters across the island who have issues with the actions of your school committee members have 2 primary roles. First, Start petitions for recall efforts. Get them replaced as fast as you can. All towns have methods in place for this. Call your town manager and find out how and start getting the signatures. Don’t wait until they are up for office again this Spring. That is too slow. Action should be taken now. Second, Find candidates to replace them that will do the project the way you want and can do all the other required school committee activities. This is the fastest way to get the change you want. Take action. Get rid of the great scourge their presence has on their local schools, the high school and residents of the island.

    • Kelly, your comments about recalling school board members makes me wonder. Do you think there has ever been an opportunity to run for the high school board? You can’t do it. You run for your local board, and then you may or may not end up on the high school board. Issues about the high school seldom arise in local school board elections. And there are no elections where a would-be MVRHS board member gets to answer questions from someone in another town.

      • So replace all the locals who don’t represent the will of the people and by definition you get new high school members. But let’s stop complaining here and actually use the democratic process to fix what you don’t like. If the “majority” doesn’t take action then please stop complaining. You have solutions that are actionable.

  10. The island of NO is alive and well, and the usual suspects who contribute their thoughts are speaking out against topics not even related to this article. We are the island of NO. The contributors manipulate numbers to suit their bias on both sides one thing we know is our children are at a disadvantage in life if they want to continue in sports and have never played on a synthetic field. I have walked all the playing fields on the island over the last 40 years and not one is kept in pristine condition or even close. At least, with the synthetic turf, there is a chance one is in good condition. It is only one part of the high school field project the majority of the fields will be grass. The MVC said build it and this whole controversy has started primarily because of one or two people in Oak Bluffs. Please explain how that is a majority.

    • Bob– Bob– I am pro choice–6 people overturned the constitutional right to abortion.
      Please explain how that is a “majority”
      I have accepted the legality of that ruling.
      Sorry for the whataboutism, but some people seem to have a hard time understanding what a losing vote is.
      I hope this helps.
      And please think before you start talking about a “tie”

  11. Enough is enough, throw down some GMO grass seed, some all natural chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, give it lots and lots of water to dilute the chemicals before they reach the water table, mow it with all natural hydrocarbons, dump the drain oil in the storm sewer, use the oil filter for a camp stove. .

  12. Yes, Terry, those towns voted for that initial funding of $350,000 to design the field in 2019 — over four years ago. That spending is now estimated at $500,000 to $650,000 without any more town votes or approvals beyond the five school committee members. And, of course, lots of things have changed since then and recent « true votes » by several towns say the opposite.

    Also the pro turf group, including you, have appropriated the term « defund » with all the good and bad baggage associated with it. We can all hear this dog whistle. And it doesn’t even remotely apply here anyway. Holding to account five school committee members for ignoring the community and engaging in improper fiscal spending to get what they want is what responsible citizens do, if they care about good government.

    You and others fail to realize that this controversy long ago became about much more than what the field is made out of.

  13. Hi Vicki
    I disagree, it is about the turf field the rest is just a smoke screen. I tried three times in public to ask the Field Fund to work with us on the fields and was turned down. MV@Play turned the project over to the Field Fund, Molly Doyle’s exact words at the meeting in the superintendents office were, “We have the money and a plan and will build the new fields”. If the Field Fund had kept their promise six years ago the kids would have new fields and there would have been a lot less money spent. Can you tell me why they broke their promise? Ewell Hopkins was told by the Oak Bluffs town attorney three years ago that the planning board did not have the right to review the schools plan based on the materials in the field or on ground water concerns but he is doing this. Have you asked Ewell why?
    Maybe he should be held accountable for the law suit. The legal costs are over, it is time for us all to stop and just wait for the judges decision.

  14. As a baseball and football coach for this island for over 12 years, the fight for this field has been twisted and now litigated for way too long. There are no true statistics stating cancer causing issues with the type of infill this field would use. THAT is a problem solved, thats ignored by every opponent. Theres varying stats about PFAS and where they are and to what extent they are dangerous. There are fields like this all across the country that have no issues. Now people are calling for board members to be recused because you dont like their decision? 2 out of 7 towns disagreed, does majority not rule anymore? Voters overwhelmingly approved this, does the will of the people not stand? Why does one man have so much stopping power? Why does his opinion trump the people of this island? Im not sure what that link was supposed to be for? A rich private tennis court, and a community field are not comparable. Every aspect of potentially dangerous material (granted, not PFAS, which are debatably dangerous as they are all around us) was taken into account and changed to a more suitable material. Why does Ewell Hopkins have this much power? I am 100% for every safety measure possible, but be realistic in your opposition and realize the changes that were made. if theres a way to do this with grass limiting the run off of harmful fertilizers…..DO IT. If no one steps up, as they have NOT in YEARS, get the turf done. DO SOMETHING FOR THESE KIDS

  15. Mr. Vought – re: “Voters overwhelmingly approved this”. Please document this statement. To my knowledge the only town votes prior the project being planned were in West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah when the original $350,000 was a requested use of “E&D” funds, requiring town approval. 2 of those towns voted yes. OB, Tisbury and Edgartown voters never had an opportunity, as their Select Boards chose to not call town meetings and therefore by state law a default “yes” in each resulted, meaning the request was approved. Subsequent money was allocated from the larger school budget which is outside town control. Only when recent spending on legal fees appeared to many as an issue did towns weigh in again.

Comments are closed.