Compromise reached on Chilmark tennis debate


Updated, April 24

At town meeting Tuesday night, Chilmark voters navigated to a middle ground on an issue that has rattled the up-Island town for the past several months: how to manage the town-owned tennis courts and summer tennis programs.

Instead of taking authority away from the nonprofit that currently manages the summer operation as originally proposed, voters moved on town meeting floor to set up a new committee to study the issue and report back to the town by January 2025.

At the center of the debate has been whether the courts’ current summer managers are properly serving the year-round tennis community, and whether they will rehire a tennis instructor who’s been in Chilmark for 25 years.

On Tuesday, It was standing-room-only in the Chilmark Community Center, and the debate lasted over an hour, with pointed questions about the courts’ current managers, unease about whether town meeting could tell a nonprofit what to do, and general dissatisfaction with the vitriol surrounding the debate.

There were 33 articles on the warrant, though voters anxiously awaited Article 32.

Submitted by the Friends and Associates of Chilmark Tennis (FACT), the article proposed changing town bylaws to take management away from the Chilmark Town Affairs Council (CTAC). This council currently has an agreement with the town to manage the courts during the summer. In place of CTAC, the article would have created a public town committee to manage the courts on a year-round basis. 

But on town meeting floor Tuesday, Jay Grossman, co-founder of the Friends group, admitted that the article was flawed.

“[T]he bylaw was thought by many to be premature, and perhaps unnecessary,” Grossman said. “I’ve come to agree that our proposed bylaw is an ill-fitting Band-Aid to a much bigger problem: how to restore the very culture of the CTAC and our community center.”

Grossman instead proposed a compromise. His motion, which was supported nearly unanimously after some fine-tuning, created a seven-member committee, to be appointed by meeting moderator Janet Weidner.

Under the approved motion, this committee will review and potentially recommend changes in the control structure of the community center in the summer, and of the tennis courts year-round. The committee will be informed by public input, and will prepare a report for the town and its select board by Jan. 31.

Before the amended version was approved, there was considerable public comment on town meeting floor, with still more accusations of a lack of transparency and communication from CTAC. Some also noted that costs seem to be increasing under their leadership. 

“Back in the day, you would pay a couple hundred dollars, $600 for your entire family to go to the community center for the summer,” said former CTAC board member Nancy Grundman. “Now it’s a bigger business, and I think the review is necessary.”

Former board member Thomas Bena spoke about his experience. “I used to sit on the CTAC board. I was the token Islander for a season — that’s what it felt like. It really did. And I have a friend now who’s the token Islander, and she has been bringing up these topics to Suellen, the [council] president, and Suellen won’t even hear her.”

Some on Tuesday criticized the debate in general. “This whole issue, frankly, is an embarrassment to the town,” town select board member Jim Malkin said on Tuesday.

Malkin and many other commenters still supported reviewing the town’s relationship with CTAC. 

“I do think it’s appropriate that our town reviews its relationship and its ownership of town land and town facilities, and looks at what is the best way to serve the needs of the entire community going forward,” he added.

Before passing Grossman’s motion, voters removed language that would have placed restrictions on CTAC’s hiring processes. An amendment to the motion removed wording that would have prevented CTAC from changing its structure and staff between the summers of 2023 and 2024. This language was removed by a vote of 128 to 83. 

Another amendment removed wording that would have made any short-term changes this year, at the community center or tennis program, subject to a majority vote of the review committee.

Many voters on Tuesday supported these amendments, citing discomfort with controlling a nonprofit’s personnel decisions. “I’m appalled at the fact that we’re discussing a personnel matter here at a town meeting. That’s not appropriate,” Steve Lewenberg said.

Jessica Mason defended the push to review CTAC, saying that the council has rebuffed prior efforts by townspeople to reach out. “This is a bigger conversation about the role that this institution and the powerful people who lead it play in our community. We’ve tried everything else, and the reason we bring this [motion] tonight is to say something needs to be done. We have no other recourse.”


Before Tuesday’s vote: A video and a meeting

The tennis management debate has been a hot topic in the past week, and tension has built for months as CTAC and FACT made their cases.

Supporters of FACT, founded last year, say the council has ignored year-round residents on issues such as affordability during the summer, providing year-round programming, and overall transparency. FACT also wanted to create a public committee to run the courts, instead of CTAC, arguing that a public body would be more accountable. FACT supporters have also been concerned that council leadership dislikes and might not rehire long-serving summer tennis instructor Eddie Stahl.

On Sunday, at a meeting held by CTAC at the community center, FACT supporters and other attendees raised these issues, and questioned the makeup and turnover of the council’s board. Attendees also grilled council leadership on whether they helped produce a controversial video that suggested FACT is obstructing social progress made by CTAC since a 2021 summer camp incident in which two white children placed a rope around the neck of a black child. 

Attendees at CTAC’s event did not get a direct reply from CTAC president Suellen Lazarus on whether Stahl’s contract would be renewed. Lazarus and Susan Pimental Andrien, executive director of the community center, told attendees multiple times that they would not comment on personnel issues.

Lazarus did say that she is not prejudiced against Stahl. “I’d like to begin by addressing an issue that is often mentioned as the reason why FACT was formed and the tennis bylaw was proposed,” she said. “That issue is that there is a personal problem between the tennis pro and me. This is not true. As the chair, I have worked to preserve his employment each year.”

Residents also grilled CTAC leadership about a video posted this past week by Kyle Williams, chief empowerment officer of the anti-racism-training organization A Long Talk. The group worked with CTAC and the community center on antiracism training following the 2021 incident. 

In the video, Williams asked voters not to change the management of the courts, and some in Chilmark felt the video deployed vague allegations of racism against FACT and Stahl. 

“[The video] implies that we … are regressive at best, and racist at worst,” FACT supporter Max Simon said on Sunday.

Lazarus told residents that CTAC neither approved nor helped produce the video. She did say that she provided photos of camp counselors and children used in the video, adding that the photos had been previously used in the public domain without objection.

Simon also read a list of 11 CTAC board members who he said have resigned in the past 18 months, adding that two more, Chris Fischer and Ben Lillenthal, resigned on Saturday.

Lazarus did not directly address attendees regarding the resignations. She did say that FACT has made the board’s work very difficult. “Each board member has experienced a great deal of pressure, questioning the board’s decisions, and dividing the board,” she said.

In another point of contention on Sunday, a letter was circulated accusing Lazarus of rescinding a job offer to Troy Lawson to direct the community center’s summer camp this year. Lawson served in the position last summer.

“My strong impression was that she rescinded my offer because I did not share her negative views of Eddie, and would not be an asset to her in that regard,” the letter from Lawson read.

Lazarus said that this was not the case. “There is certainly a misunderstanding, because there was never an offer,” she said, adding that an offer was not made because Lawson has schoolteaching commitments in California, and so could not have served for the duration of the program.

Multiple former and current CTAC board members also criticized the council on Sunday. Current board member Heather Quinn stated that she has felt excluded, and noted that she is one of three year-round town residents on the board. “It is a group that I have felt consistently marginalized on,” she said. “And to be honest, I have wondered at times if it’s because I lived in an affordable home in Chilmark instead of a second one.”

Community center executive director Andrien also spoke on Sunday against the FACT plan to change who manages the courts.

“The proposal is not sound,” she said. “The expense figures contained in the plan are severely understated. It costs twice as much to staff the tennis program for the nine weeks in the summer as [FACT] have estimated for the whole year.” 


Stahl’s perspective

Ahead of the town meeting vote, The MV Times caught up with tennis instructor Eddie Stahl, who has taught the sport to Chilmark adults and youth for 25 years. Stahl says he considers himself a sort of a coach in his community, and the morning before the vote, he was out at the community center tennis courts.

Leading up to town meeting, FACT supporters have defended Stahl, concerned that the Chilmark Town Affairs Council might not renew his contract. 

“I’ve just been targeted by the chair of CTAC [Suellen Lazarus], and the only reason why my name is out there is because of that,” the instructor said.

Stahl says that his singling out comes from events surrounding the resignation of former CTAC executive director Kiera Lapsley in 2023.

In winter 2023, Stahl learned that Lapsley wanted to demote the summer junior tennis director, and to hire someone to oversee him. Lapsley told Stahl that she thought the junior program needed more attention, and told him the demotion was undebatable.

“I asked Kiera if she could please give me a report from anybody on why we would demote [the junior director],” Stahl says. “I was never given a reason.”

In response to the planned demotion, Stahl says, he worked with community members to create two letters, which he sent to Lapsley and CTAC in support of the junior director.

He says problems began soon after, when community members took it upon themselves to write their own letters to CTAC defending the junior director. Stahl says that due to this, he ended up being accused at a CTAC board meeting of a harassment campaign against Lapsley.

Stahl says that he never experienced tension between himself and Lapsley. “I had a cordial relationship with Kiera throughout the whole summer … I never disrespected her.”

He also says that harassment accusations against him have been picked up by local schoolchildren, and that this has impacted his own children.

Stahl has also seen Williams’ video. “Obviously, this video was targeted at me and the tennis community, and nobody’s happy about it,” he says.

Stahl, who says that he has not worked closely with CTAC or FACT leading up to town meeting, has been frustrated by the tennis debate in general, and would like to see more attention to year-round programs for schoolchildren. He highlights the potential for year-round collaborative opportunities with organizations like Vineyard Family Tennis.

“I just find it disappointing that working here with kids, and afterschool with kids, and years of advocating for the kids, that something like this has to be played out in our community … it just seems like a lot of energy that could have gone toward more productive endeavors,” Stahl said.


Other town meeting articles

Outside of the debate over tennis, town meeting voters approved several vehicular upgrades for town departments. These include $75,000 for an electric pickup for the police department, $30,000 for a hybrid SUV or pickup for the building inspector and facilities manager, $24,210 for gear and equipment for Fire Engine 121, and $22,350 for an off-road utility vehicle for the fire department.

Town administrator Tim Carroll stated last week that the $75,000 electric pickup for police will be a patrol-ready Ford Lightning.

Voters also approved raising the local room occupancy excise from 4 percent to 6 percent, and amended the article so that all revenue raised from the excise increase goes to the Molly Flender Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Voters also approved $50,000 to fund the first year of a 10-year facilities maintenance plan, $30,000 for public accessibility improvements at Menemsha Beach, and $25,000 to buy and install traffic-calming solutions on Basin Road in Menemsha.


  1. This debate has a long way to go to catch up with the high school field turf issue. With it just stated it is as much fun to follow and hope it gets to the next match, now who’s serve is it?

  2. Are we going to hear from Keira and put an end to the accusations? I really hope Eddie Stahl gets to keep his job of 27 years and we keep after school and adult tennis clinics going year round. If not whoever takes over has some big shoes to fill.

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