Planning board requests review of turf project 

24
The MVRHS committee at a recent meeting —MV Times

Though both sides have agreed to avoid a trial, the MVRHS School Committee and the Oak Bluffs planning board are still in disagreement about next steps for the development of a new turf field and track at the high school. 

In a joint filing, the planning board asked the court to remand the turf project application back before the board, so they can conduct a new analysis of the application with the judge’s ruling limitations in mind. 

“We are asking the judge to allow us to conduct a review of their application based on his new defined clarifications on what our authority is, now that the judge has more clearly defined these interpretations of the law and the authority by which we have to govern and protect groundwater in a water resource protection district under the Dover guidelines,” Oak Bluffs planning board chair Ewell Hopkins told The Times. 

The school committee, meanwhile, state in their legal filing that the project does not need a special permit from the planning board based on the judge’s ruling, and the board’s decision to reject the field is vacated.

A land court judge a month ago ruled in favor of the school committee, finding that the planning board acted “beyond its authority” by taking groundwater protection into its argument when denying a special permit for the school’s turf field project.

While ruling in the school’s favor, the judge gave the two sides 30 days to reach an agreement on how to proceed.

On Thursday, after 30 days, the school and planning board jointly filed a status report and requested a joint status conference with Judge Kevin T. Smith to discuss remaining disputes between the parties. 

The status conference will be an opportunity to discuss the status report, understand next steps, and discuss the procedural aspects of the case with the judge and both parties present. 

The filing was also discussed at a MVRHS committee meeting on Wednesday.

“We agree that no triable issues remain, and no additional discovery is needed,” committee chair Kathryn Schertzer announced. “However, we disagree on the final disposition of the case. We anticipate a status conference, and await the court’s instructions.”

The announcement came after the committee met with attorney Brian Winner of Meade, Tallerman and Costa. 

The school proposed a final judgment that the planning board would reverse and vacate their decision denying the application, and that the project does not require a special permit. 

Per the joint status report filed Thursday, the planning board states the project should be remanded to the planning board because other locations for the school’s athletic fields on the MVRHS campus were not considered. 

Per the report, the board did not consider whether the school could “reasonably locate its playing fields elsewhere on its campus — outside of the dimensional limitations” of the laws that allow them to govern water resources. 

Hopkins said their authority “covers a portion, but not the entirety” of the school’s campus.

“Now, with clarification of that authority, we would like to evaluate modifications to the current application under those guidelines,” the planning board chair said. 

The school attorney Winner also shared an update on discussions with opposing attorney Michael Goldsmith leading up to the status report, and outlined potential courses the case could take going forward.

According to Winner, if the judge rules on the side of the school, as previously planned, the planning board does have a right to appeal the decision.

“If the judge imposes a final decision unilaterally against the wishes of one of the parties, then everyone has a right to appeal that,” he said.

The only way that another appeal could be avoided completely is if the parties reached an agreement for both sides to waive their right to appeal, said Winner. 

Winner declined to estimate how long it might be until he heard back from the court or when the status conference date might be set, but said it could be weeks or months, depending on the court’s schedule. The conference will likely take place over Zoom between the MVRHS committee, the planning board, and the judge.

The committee voted 5-2 to enter executive session to discuss more details of the proceedings with Winner, though committee member Skipper Manter argued to keep the session public. 

“I think we’d be better off having the public listen to us,” he said, arguing that if litigation is over, the case is over, and the discussion is just a reference to procedure. “That can’t possibly hurt our position. I think the better informed public, the better off we’ll be.” 

Following the executive session, the committee discussed financing Winner’s upcoming services. 

Attorney Winner anticipated that he would be billing the committee an additional two hours of work, for attending the status conference and for discussing the results with the committee. He said no prep work would be needed for the next step of the process. 

The committee felt confident they’d be able to pay for those services with the remaining funds in the designated line. 

“We’ve got that covered,” Manter said.

24 COMMENTS

  1. All this nonsense about playing sports on a plastic field and yet the high school is failing in educating our children and the condition of it’s building is an embarrassment. Keep up the good work!!

    • When will John Axel do the work of running for political office and give our schools the leadership our children deserve. It costs nothing to just complain.

  2. Fear of PFAS is more important than teaching well and maintaining good discipline. The latest from the Superintendent on pupil participation rate skewing the MCAS scores is COA.

    • The problem is the people who voted for the School Committee.
      Our schools must mete our physical discipline, Liberally while instilling Conservative values/a strong belief in God. Only then can we be free!

  3. I want to put this in normal speak. It could be any applicant.

    Applicant submits and application.

    Planning board tells applicant their application is incomplete and they need a special permit. Board then reviews the application, seeks advice of their lawyer who tells them what is permissible and not permissible. They ignore their lawyer. But they actually do site plan review and approve the project. Now the building department asks for a special permit. Applicant applies and the same board that already approved the project now denies the special permit that their lawyer told them they had no jurisdiction to do. Review. Site plan was approved. Applicant appeals the denial and both sides argue in front of a judge. Planning board that was told no by lawyer is told no again by a judge. Now the planning board wants to review the exact same application they already approved. Either they failed to do the appropriate review the first time or they are just mad because they are so arrogant that they think the judge should just give it back to them because they admit they failed to do an appropriate review the first time after hours and hours of meetings. Hours and hours. Either way, can you imagine if this was your house project? Or your business and you have been trying for years to accomplish something? You would be disgusted by this board. No wonder they get sued. Arrogance at the highest level.

  4. The proposed field has less PSAF than the amount of PSAF in the dirt it is replacing.
    The EPA has listed that 5 ppt is found in every rain storm we have. All the science conducted
    researching the field determined that it is NO RISK to the aquifier.
    The only people saying it is a risk are the ones putting forth IRRATIONAL FEARS as they have for nine and one half years.

  5. The planning board has already reviewed this project and the chair voted to approve it, it was a 3-1 vote. He now wants a chance to change his vote to not approve it. There is absolutely no reason for this to be reviewed by his board again. This is just another delay tactic that will cost even more money. When will the town leadership shut this rouge agent of theirs down? To use a theme from the opposition “the majority has spoken” no more money. A judge ruled, what the planning board did was illegal so end it and move on. NO MORE MONEY. NO second bite of the apple. Where is the outrage from those who wanted to defund the school? This new request from the planning board chair will make the school spend more money. So Chilmark and West Tisbury, I guess it really was never about the money now, was it?

    The planning board, who had written instructions from their lawyer what their scope was, is now saying they didn’t know what their scope was. That tells me that they completely ignored the written advise from the town’s lawyer. Ignorance of the law isn’t an excuse. Isn’t it the chair’s job to know what their scope is?

    Lastly, if there was a different area on the school campus to put the field, which is what he is saying in this article, then why didn’t he suggest that then? He was told what his scope was, he should have suggested this then, or was he so intent in getting this project rejected that he was blinded by that hatred that he couldn’t think past his bias. Like I have said in the past, it has never been about PFAS, it is about his being bias against this project and he will do anything he can to get it denied. This delay is just another tactic to get this project rejected. It has been proven that he is bias against this project, someone in the town needs to insist he remove himself from this project and stop his funding.

    • All excellent points. I would add that it’s likely that moving the location would literally move the entire project back to the drawing board whereby the school is spending more money for new plans, all of which must go through the proper approval.

  6. If Ewell Hopkins is so convinced this needs to be looked at again he should start paying all the costs. It seems very easy for him to spend taxpayer money and cause educational hardship on these kids by playing on sub standard fields. Has it really been over nine years this is going on? Some joke and call this Fantasy Island more appropriate is to call it dysfunctional Island.

  7. “So Chilmark and West Tisbury, I guess it really was never about the money now, was it?”

    Patrick, for many people, myself included, this has always been, and will always be, about the money. The issue of financial misconduct by a small minority of the MVRHS school committee is not a substantive problem, it is an abuse of process. The underlying project could be anything. The committee’s fiscal behavior can, and may well, affect future funding questions, and they must be brought under control now.

    Or voted out of office, eventually, but that will take too long.

    For now, these financial problems fall squarely within the oversight responsibilities of town finance committees under Massachusetts law. Indeed, it is our duty to our voters. As elected officials of the six member towns of the regional district, we must be vigilant in policing the rogue fiscal practices by the high school committee.

    Patrick, next time the project at issue could be one you oppose. If there is fiscal abuse, I will be right there beside you. Your welcome.

    • If it wasn’t about the project then why did your town take a vote to defund the school over properly used funds from the budget. Remember you asked for no 2024FY budget to be used for the project?

      I dare say you are embarrassing yourself here. Ask your school committee member how many times he has voted to take anonymous money over the years. Where have you been all these years as a watchdog. This is a strategy about this project only and it is transparent. It’s all in the minutes. Same for the west Tis school committee member who made motions or seconded them to accept money. It is all about your strategy to defund this project. You disagree with schools legal counsel. So what. Two different opinions on the same words. I will go with the people who are currently members of the bar and not some at least once fired Washington hide in Chilmark JD. Now start recall petitions and get rid of the people you call criminals and replace them with people who will do your bidding under the law. But please stop sniveling and just take action. Maybe those folks would enjoy more time with their families. Do them a favor. Otherwise be real and say you hate the project and you are bored and this is your current fun.

    • If it’s all about the money, do you also feel that you owe a duty to Chilmark taxpayers to pursue recovery of the high school’s legal fees from the Town of Oak Bluffs? After all, the fees were incurred as a direct result of the OB Planning Board overstepping their authority. Now that the court has found that the planning board acted unlawfully in denying the special permit, will you be calling for MVRHS to file a motion seeking recovery of fees in the matter?

    • Where is your out cry towards the planning board chair, he caused this? We know this because a court of law said so. Why do you put all the blame on the school? All they did was fight for what we now know was right. I applaud them for that. You stand up when someone abuses their position of power.

    • Vicki, I really respect your restraint and focus here. It is much needed, and you say it better than I could.

      My professional background doesn’t hold a candle yours. I’m small time.

      But as a former director of the largest Swiss Bank, I can tell you with absolute certainty that when people show up with large quantities of cash, or any money not clearly connected to a legitimate enterprise, it is time to start asking questions.

      Actually, you don’t need a Wall Street background to know that. But it helps.

      Keep asking the questions please.

      One day we will find out who is funding this, and she would like it very much if we didn’t.

      • MacGregor, if you’ve been following this, you must see that the individual who donated the money anonymously did so to make a point, that the non-binding referendum from WT and Chilmark meant nothing. There is no connection to illegitimate business. The fact that you and others claim there is is ridiculous, and you have no proof. Don’t you think the timing of this donation, coming right after the town’s made that vote, is a little more than coincidence? Read the room.

      • Hi. You two keep talking about “dark” money, Drug dealers. Criminals when it comes to a donations for a legally raised appeal. Those words demonstrate your implicit bias. Those dark words elicit exactly what we need to remove from our society. Shameful of a public official to use these words when representing her community.

    • Maybe focus on your role. Finance and advisory to the town of chilmark. Go to your select board and report your advisory. Have them engage your town. Counsel. You are overstepping your boundaries.

      • Actually not even close to an overstep. HS is funded by all towns. Legal basis below (all caps emphasis is mine, as bold & underline don’t work here).

        MGL Chapter 39, Section 16:
        Every town whose valuation for the purpose of apportioning the state tax exceeds one million dollars shall, and any other town may, by by-law provide for the election or the appointment and duties of appropriation, advisory or finance committees, WHO SHALL CONSIDER ANY OR ALL MUNICIPAL QUESTIONS for the purpose of making reports or recommendations to the town; and such by-laws may provide that committees so appointed or elected may continue in office for terms not exceeding three years from the date of appointment or election.

        • You are correct Doug. Recommendations to the town. Where does that say you can call elected officials criminals. They should go to the town. They are advisory to the town. Not Tisbury or Edgatown, etc. That is overstepping. Worry about your taxpayers money and by the way. She is worrying about donated money. Not taxpayer money. Why does everyone have to keep twisting this. 2k. Not 5k as she has lied in public.

      • Susan, a Massachusetts finance committee does not report to or advise its town’s select board. A select board is not like a mayor or city counsel — and its power is circumscribed by law, much more so than people realize.

        A finance committee is an independent board. The members are elected to advise the voters at town meeting DIRECTLY on “all municipal matters,” as Doug quotes from the law.

        In Chilmark, our finance committee has taken an active role in recent years to dig deep into the financial conduct of town and island entities. We want our voters to have as much information as possible so that they can make good decisions for the town at town meeting. That is what they elected us to do.

        • How about addressing your lies in the newspaper as well as your very poor choice of words. Will you issue a public apology?

          You do finally note correctly you are advisory to the citizens of Chilmark and not island wide as Doug would have led readers to believe. Have you taken up your concerns with Town Counsel? What is the outcome of that consult and what did it cost your taxpayers? Please don’t tell the voters of Chilmark that you have not. If these are serious concerns as you have raised, then they should expect that you follow the proper channels and are not just grabbing headlines.

  8. Thank god you finally showed up to correct the long standing illegal practices of this committee and the years and years of abusive practice of accepting money to better education in all forms.

    I think they should take it even further and any funding that comes in should list the name of every donor to the funds that give. For example: the tower fund. We taxpayers should directly know the source of every penny. We know from taxpayer rolls who pays so we should know from all sources. It makes sense and is logical.

Comments are closed.