Chilmark tennis debate heats up before town meeting

Select board members say the highly anticipated warrant article is ill-defined, and could be difficult to enact.

The tennis courts at the Chilmark Community Center. —Eunki Seonwoo

As Chilmark gears up for its annual town meeting, town officials are expressing concerns about a proposal put forth by a local movement that would change who manages town-owned tennis courts at the Chilmark Community Center.

The Chilmark select board has raised serious questions about the warrant article, which is set to be voted on at town meeting on Tuesday. 

In short, voting “yes” on the proposed article would create a three-person public town tennis committee, which would manage the courts year-round. The article would also set up a revolving fund for that committee’s finances.

Supporters of the article say that this new committee would provide more tennis programs for Chilmark’s growing year-round tennis community, and would be required to be more transparent and accountable than the courts’ current managers. 

“The community has to vote yes because it is going to give us control over the asset that we all share,” says Chilmark resident Kathleen Lee, who has been supportive of the effort. “A yes vote means guaranteed year-round youth and adult tennis programming with the direct oversight of the Chilmark select board.”

Voting “no” would maintain the status quo, in which current managers, the nonprofit Chilmark Town Affairs Council (CTAC), manage the courts during the summer as well as related summer tennis programs. CTAC has overseen community programs in Chilmark since 1957.

The warrant article comes out of a debate that has been simmering in Chilmark for months.

The debate is also a tale of two nonprofits. The Friends and Associates of Chilmark Tennis nonprofit — abbreviated as FACT — are the group behind the warrant article. 

FACT leadership likens the existing management of the courts to a private club that has largely ignored the long-held involvement of year-round residents. FACT, founded in 2023, is made of 250 year-round and summer residents.

CTAC, on the other hand, has argued that a management change is both unnecessary and impractical, and that they are properly managing the courts and have been working to better address input from the year-round tennis community.

At a recent meeting, select board members shared their concerns, questioning the article’s legality, with board member Marie Larsen considering telling voters not to approve it at town meeting on Tuesday.

Her message, read at Tuesday’s select board meeting, states that the select board has reviewed Article 32, and sought input from voters and outside professionals. She also states that the article is not in the best interests of the town and community. 

“I understand that both groups have legitimate concerns, but the bylaw is not the answer to this,” Larsen added on Tuesday.

Select board member Bill Rossi also has concerns that the article has not been properly vetted, and that it would be unfair for residents to vote on it. “There are questions on this topic that haven’t been answered, and I don’t feel it’s really fair for voters to have to vote on something where there are so many questions,” Rossi said on Tuesday, adding that he has discussed summer tennis management with stakeholders for over a year.

Rossi also said that implementing Article 32 could create problems for specific town officials. “[The article’s passage] would just be an unnecessary burden on town hall staff — treasurer, accountant, everything,” he said.

Chilmark town administrator Timothy Carroll added that there are significant implications for town staffing, and that the article’s proposals may or may not be lawful. 

“It’s the creation of a new town department that would require integration into the personnel bylaws, and the financial state laws,” he said. “There are a lot of unanswered questions. Are they seasonal employees or are they not seasonal employees? Are they year-round employees? Are they full-time? Are they benefited? It’s not called out, so there are a lot of questions. And then there is state law. And then there are proposals about how they’re going to collect money, and how they’re going to distribute money, that may or may not comply with state law.”

Carroll adds that he does not know how many new employees the town might have to hire. The council currently hires seven to 10 tennis staff each summer.

When asked whether the article would create new town employees, Jay Grossman, co-founder of FACT, said that the matter would be subject to future discussion.

Since 2018, the existing group overseeing the facilities — CTAC — has had a memorandum of understanding with Chilmark that focuses on overseeing summer programs. Programs at the Chilmark Community Center overseen by the council include an afternoon tennis camp for ages 8–14, an adult tennis program, and a sailing camp.

FACT states on its website that if the warrant article passes, traditional summer programs at the community center will not be disrupted, including the youth tennis camp. If the article passes, the group also wants to collaborate with the council to establish mutual values, and rules for use during the camp.

But Grossman says that the council’s management of summer programs has alienated year-round residents. He points to a lack of responsiveness and transparency from the council, as well as a decrease in access and affordability for year-round residents under their leadership. Grossman specifically cites a summer 2023 council policy that excluded some children who did not pay fees from the courts. 

Grossman says that a new town tennis committee, in contrast, would be better able to provide activities for year-round residents, and would be more receptive to the tennis community in general.

These year-round activities include free afterschool programs in shoulder and winter seasons, with other paid programs for adults. Grossman adds that programs for year-rounders would be funded by membership fees, at no cost to taxpayers, and the FACT website states that it has an estimated surplus of $25,000 to $30,000 to invest in afterschool and membership programs for Chilmark School children.

“The main benefit would be that we invest in local youth programming,” says Grossman.

Grossman adds that a revolving fund account in Article 32 would add to the town tennis committee’s financial accountability.

Grossman adds that CTAC has failed to communicate with FACT: “There has been none. We have reached out on at least nine different occasions to cooperate, collaborate, create dialogue, propose mediation — there has been no communication from CTAC.”

Suellen Lazarus, president of CTAC, says that the council has made efforts to communicate, and will continue speaking with the friends. “Essentially, we completely disagree that we haven’t heard FACT, and that we haven’t taken their views into account,” she says. She adds that the council board members and attorney have met with members of FACT as well.

Lazarus opposes Article 32, saying that it is not beneficial for the town or tennis community. “What we don’t understand and what we’re opposed to is — why would the voters of Chilmark want to transfer that responsibility to the town?”

Lazarus added that she is troubled by the prospect of tennis staff becoming town employees. She notes that the proposed tennis committee, unlike the beach or harbor committees, would not be an advisory committee, and would have control over managing the courts.

Lazarus says that if the warrant article passes, it is unlikely to affect programming at the community center for summer 2024, given the duration of the bylaw amendment process.

Larsen and Rossi did recognize on Tuesday that there are legitimate concerns about summer tennis programming. Larsen’s statement acknowledged the possibilities of exploring winter public tennis programs in Chilmark if voters want to do so, and forming a small committee with members from the council and friends.

Rossi said that he did not mind an expansion of the tennis program. “But it needs to be thought out very strategically, and [as for] how it’s going to fit into the framework of the town hall organization and departments, and that’s not done yet,” he added.

Aside from the concerns of select board members, there has been some confusion over the article as well.

“I’ve read [the warrant article] — I don’t have a clue what’s going on,” said town planning board member Ann Wallace on Tuesday. “That would be my worry about most people in the town. What is it? And what’s the issue? So I find it incredibly confusing.”

Chilmark goes to town meeting on Tuesday, April 23, at 7:00 pm at the community center.


  1. Not only do we not know whats at the heart of this issue but we also dont know what the big rush is for “Friends” to takeover the courts. Chilmarkers generally like to thoroughly vet all proposals before bringing them to the annual town meeting for a vote- so why is this article skipping the standard protocol & and being fast tracked? I personally have always liked that the CCC belongs to the Town & is co managed with CTAC. Its an arrangement that has mostly worked quite well for many years. So far I havent seen any reasons that indicate that CTAC must be fired immediately and there hasnt been much detailed information on why replacing CTAC w “Friends” would be our best option. I personally would prefer to see the “Friends” ask CTAC how they might be of help to them in getting their concerns elevated & addressed sooner. Maybe all it would take is some constructive dialog, a donation & some helping hands to assist w manual labor for a few weeks to achieve mutually agreed upon goals. Yes differences really can be resolved quite simply if BOTH parties really want it. I personally would like to see this project tabled until the community has the opportunity to ask lots of questions & to review all of the facts. I believe that its very important to get much more information before proceeding to what is really the privatization of CCC Tennis courts. I absolutely do support the CCC & the tennis program but I do not support the privatization of the CCC courts & tennis program or the privatization of any other municipal asset. The “Friends” have many other possible opportunities to play tennis besides the CCC courts and there is no need to push through this warrant article before its been thoroughly examined.

  2. This is the biggest debate over tennis since the great debate over the length of standard tennis shorts

  3. Mary Jane, I had the same question. This is the back-story. CTAC has been captured by Board President Suellen Lazarus. 10 Board members have resigned (been forced to in disgust and frustration and protest) in the last 18 months. In the last week 176 Chilmark tennis players and Parents of kids at camp have signed a letter supporting FACT. That is overwhelming support. This group of Tennis Players has tried for 2 years to deal with CTAC. They have suggested board members, tried everything to no avail. The last straw that really mobilized the community is “The Board” (Suellen Lazarus) has been repeatedly trying to fire Eddie Stahl. Eddie Stahl is loved by everyone who has ever had anything to do with Chilmark Community Center. Eddie has been there for 27 years. He has dedicated his life to working with kids and community and had an enormous impact. A YES vote is to restore the community center to The Community. Please Vote yes. A no vote is a vote for abusive mis-management. There are not “two sides” here.

    • Thank you for sharing the back story. Given that the Town owns the land & the CCC owns the building & facilities it would be important to know that what we are being asked to vote on is legal & has been reviewed by Town Council. Does the Fin Comm recommend this?

  4. Those who are proposing tennis bylaw have not taken this lightly.  We love the CCC and are comprised of former CTAC Members, Summer Program Committee Members, CCC members, Volunteers, and Fundraisers, as well as past CCC campers, and staff.  Seasonal and full-time residents alike. Most of us have been volunteering at the Center in so many capacities for many years.  Let me be clear that we continuously reach out to the CTAC Board and the CCC ED to discuss our concerns.  Our attempts for discussions have continuously been rebuffed particularly on the issue of our primary concern: the retention and direction of Eddie Stahl who has served as Chilmark tennis pro for 27 years. We continue to be open and willing to have productive dialogue with members of CTAC and/or the CCC ED.  
    With respect to the vetting process, we were scheduled to appear before the select board on the By Law on April 2.  We and CTAC were taken off the agenda shortly before the meeting.  If we were able to meet a more thorough vetting process would have taken place.  Our Beetlebung Campus with the Tennis courts is one of the Town’s important assets.  The uses include first and foremost use for the children at the Chilmark School, the Library, and the Tennis Courts.  What is being sought is a collaborative process for our town’s use of this priceless asset – always putting the Island Youth first.

  5. Hi Mary Jane,
    I’m happy to talk to you about your concerns. The FACT group has tried many times to connect with the Board of the CCC to help, work together and not to separate but the efforts were dismissed by some members of the CCC Board. There are some other areas of concern for the community members who are brave enough to take action. It’s not easy to make changes but from what I’ve seen, these are all people who genuinely care about the CCC and our community. The number of residents and community members who are concerned about the direction of the CCC should indicate that there are some areas that could be improved upon. I hope it can lead to an open minded discussion about the issues. Happy to connect and share what I’ve learned.

  6. It seems various parties are either currently benefitting or seek to benefit from one arrangement or the other: so residents/voters need to know what’s up with that. There are multiple parties who are involved in scheduling of events at the CCC who may either have a conflict of interest OR, conversely, whose input is going to be essential to avoid scheduling conflicts related to use of the CCC premises, in the summer in particular. I am curious to know which event(s) or interaction(s) precipitated this campaign for a new “tennis oversight” group, and why there is a desire for the Town to be responsible for sponsoring/funding it. Is it as a result of pandemic-era population influx, and the related expectations or entitlements that have come with that? Is this meant as a job creator? Also, how can you have year-round tennis when there is no indoor facility in Chilmark for that? Is new construction envisioned? No pun intended, but there is a clear lack of transparency on the rationale behind this effort. It’s rather impolitic to get off on that clouded footing with the public.

    And who is “Grossman”? First name?

  7. It’s great that you have thoughtful and important questions. There will be an open discussion at 11 at the CCC on Sunday. Annie and Mary Jane I hope you can come! It’s great to have you as community members there and I appreciate your questions.
    One thing- the town owns the CCC building and gives the CCC the use for the camp period of the summer weeks. CCC has helped with maintenance costs given the shared use.

Comments are closed.