A longstanding controversy over the operations and management of the tennis program at the Chilmark Community Center came to a head this week when a citizen petition for a special town meeting to establish an independent tennis committee and tennis fund went before the select board.

The petition, which included 130 signatures from Chilmark residents, was submitted too late to get on the warrant for the Jan. 22 special town meeting, and the select board declined to call another meeting to take up the topic now.

“I would respectfully request that consideration be given to put this on the annual town meeting,” said select board member Jim Malkin.

Programming at the Chilmark tennis courts, along with the community center summer camp, is currently run by the nonprofit Chilmark Town Affairs Council, founded in 1956.

The bylaw proposed in the citizen petition, developed by the nonprofit Friends and Associates of Chilmark Tennis, would instead put the tennis program under the direction of a three-member tennis committee.

Jay Grossman, one of the founders of the Friends and Associates of Chilmark Tennis, said the proposal is meant to highlight and prioritize the needs of the year-round tennis community.

“The town has this real antiquated memorandum of understanding with an organization called Chilmark Town Affairs Council,” he said. “It has created a need for year-round programming, a year-round view of the courts.”

In a letter sent to the select board, the Chilmark Town Affairs Council criticized the proposed bylaw, saying it could damage long running programs at the community center, splitting up jurisdiction there.

“The proposed changes would unnecessarily upend the Community Center’s programs as we know them,” the letter reads. “This proposal...should raise serious questions for the Select Board, its taxpayers, and the hundreds and hundreds of families who have benefited from Community Center programs over the years.”

Friction between Chilmark Town Affairs Council and the tennis program has been ongoing, with the conflict surfacing again after a new summer camp executive director, Keira Lapsley, was hired in the summer of 2022.

Following a lawsuit in 2021 concerning an eight-year-old black child tied up by two white boys at the camp, the new director instituted a staff diversity training.

According to Chilmark Town Affairs Council chair Suellen Lazarus, the tennis pro and others involved with the tennis program did not attend the trainings and were “disrespectful to the executive director.”

“We didn’t support our executive director in the way I wish we had been able to. And she decided it didn’t make sense for her to stay,” Ms. Lazarus said, of Ms. Lapsley’s departure after that summer.

Mr. Grossman said the tennis community had been “super welcoming to the executive director,” and that they were not the cause of her departure.

After the select board declined to call a special town meeting on Tuesday, Mr. Grossman said the tennis group had not yet determined their next steps, adding that he was confident they would be able to gather the 200 signatures required to automatically trigger a special town meeting.

“I want to emphasize that we have enormous support for what we are doing,” he said. “We feel like the town tennis committee would be a better mechanism to foster collaboration amongst the various stakeholders.”

Ms. Lazarus, meanwhile, said that Chilmark Town Affairs Council has planned a virtual community engagement meeting on Sunday, Jan 21 from 12 to 1:30 p.m., details of which can be found at chilmarkcommunitycenter.com.

“We want to hear from the community,” she said.