Through the rancor, Chilmark finds compromise 


It’s been quite a week in the news. 

The U.S. House of Representatives finally put aside its deep divisions to sign an aid package that will save untold thousands of lives in the grinding war in Ukraine, and to provide military support for Israel amid threats from Iran, and desperately needed humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in the rubble of Gaza. 

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments on the intensifying battle over women’s reproductive rights, and two laws in Texas and Idaho may determine whether women will be allowed access to an abortion in an emergency room.

Oh, and for the first time in history, a former president of the U.S. is facing a criminal trial, in a dingy Manhattan courtroom amid a tawdry case that seems to do nothing to change his standings in the polls as a tough challenger to President Biden in the fall election.

And amid all that, right here on our Island, the town of Chilmark found a way to pull itself apart over the issue of who will manage the town’s tennis courts. The smallness of it all was the thing that was most troubling. Wednesday night, the town selectman James Malkin put it well when he said, “This whole issue, frankly, is an embarrassment to the town.”

And a schoolteacher who attended a Sunday afternoon public hearing on the matter in advance of the Tuesday vote spoke out above the simmering tensions and finger-pointing, appropriately reminding everyone, “Our children are watching us.” 

It was a week of simmering tensions mostly around local power politics and adults behaving poorly. The bitterly divisive debate emerged against a backdrop of allegations of mismanagement and a lack of transparency by the nonprofit Chilmark Town Affairs Council (CTAC) that manages the courts, as well as a controversial video that tried unsuccessfully to apply a veneer of racism to the dispute, only to be pulled down by its creator. 

All of that was swirling in the air last night as town residents filed into the packed Chilmark Community Center for the annual town meeting. 

In all, there were 33 articles that were discussed and voted on, but one in particular was the main event. It touched off a 90-minute discussion, and finally the article, as originally proposed by the Friends and Associates of Chilmark Tennis (FACT) to create a new committee to oversee the tennis courts, was withdrawn.

The proposal sought to address mounting criticism of the CTAC leadership under president Suellen Lazarus around an effort to replace tennis pro Eddie Stahl, who has won many supporters for his work coaching and teaching tennis for the past 25 years. The criticism centered around a perceived failure to hear local voices from the community, and a style of leadership that felt dismissive to those who were trying to voice concerns and felt thwarted at every turn.

In an effort to reach a compromise, the article was ultimately withdrawn by FACT, and a new proposal was put forward, built around a compromise approach and a careful parsing of language. The proposal passed in a nearly unanimous vote. At the end of the day, Chilmark voters tasked the town moderator with appointing a special committee that will look into the allegations of poor management at CTAC, and produce a report that will be delivered by January of next year; presumably, the compromise will offer a roadmap for how to improve community participation and the style of governance in the leadership structure of CTAC.

There are many failings that contributed to the unnecessary rancor, and to be fair, we at The MV Times could have covered this story more carefully as it unfolded along a ragged edge that too often separates summer residents from the year-round community. We should have worked harder to see that there were indeed some profound underlying issues around how community leaders govern, and how that impacts beloved institutions like the Chilmark Community Center. What perhaps we all learned over the past week is that the style of governance truly matters, and a culture of mutual respect is necessary. It seemed by the end of the night that there was an awakening around that as the central issue. 

But the words of the schoolteacher from Sunday night still hung in the cool spring air outside the center as voters filed through the double doors and lingered a bit to share points of view. The children of our community are indeed watching us, and we hope next time we all can do better, to act like adults, to be more civil in our disagreements, and try to restore the trust we want our children to have in us. Their eyes are upon us.


  1. An eloquent and equanimous recap. This is everything a Letter from the Editor(s) should be, and the broader context of all the adult-directed governance activities and justice-seeking efforts in the nation at large – which affect children and require conscience in action – reminds us that “politics” is both local and global. We can’t model values for young people that we don’t practice ourselves. Chilmark has a lot of cooler heads, and they have at least temporarily prevailed.

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