A public hearing at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission was abruptly ended Thursday night after a troop of obscene and lewd Zoom bombers interrupted the meeting, held to discuss the regional high school’s controversial athletic field project.
The commission closed the meeting before any testimony was heard. The hearing was continued to Feb. 18, when a third public hearing on the field project had already been scheduled.
“This was tragic and extremely embarrassing. Not to us, but to whoever the heck did this,” commissioner Linda Sibley said after the interruptions ended.
The highly-anticipated meeting was originally scheduled as the second public hearing on the high school’s proposed $7 million dollar athletic fields renovation, which proposes a new synthetic turf track and field and grandstand, as well as five new natural grass fields.
The proposal has caused sharp division in the community, with Islanders digging in on both sides of the debate over the inclusion of the synthetic turf field. A public hearing in January ran more than two hours, with approximately a half dozen school staff, former students, coaches and Islanders speaking in favor of the project.
But approximately 25 minutes into the second public hearing Thursday and before any testimony had been given, Zoom bombers interrupted the meeting, directing crude, sexually explicit and vulgar language toward at least two members of the commission and a staff member.
The interruption began just before commission DRI coordinator Alex Elvin was to begin a presentation summarizing the proposal and previous testimony.
After about three minutes of interruptions, including an offensive written message directed toward a member of the public who had warned that the Zoom bombing action was illegal, commission staff decided to end the meeting and send out a new Zoom link. But because the link had not been advertised 48 hours in advance of the meeting in accordance with state public meeting law, commissioners had to continue the hearing to a later date.
In an interview Friday, commission executive director Adam Turner decried the Zoom bomber’s actions, expressed sympathy for the targeted individuals and said the commission would be instituting additional cyber security measures, including hiring additional personnel to help with meeting administration.
“It was disgraceful,” Mr. Turner said. “This was an important project. And we were forced to reschedule . . . We’re going to have a level of protection that we have not done before so that this does not happen again.”
Eight individuals were removed from the meeting Thursday night, commission staff confirmed.
Mr. Turner said he would be contacting Oak Bluffs police Friday afternoon and planned to give them a recording of the meeting. Disrupting a public meeting or assembly is a crime under state general laws. Mr. Turner also confirmed that the commission would meet next week with administrators at the regional high school, which is the project applicant.
In a statement issued Friday afternoon, high school administrators denounced the incident.
“We are deeply saddened and angered by the very verbal assault and disruption of the . . . public hearing on the MVRHS athletic fields,” the statement said in part. “We are committed to a democratic and fair process where all voices and behaviors must be respectful of one another, regardless of our differing beliefs and values.”
Commission staff said 23 members of the public were scheduled to speak during the hearing Thursday. Ultimately, none of them were heard.
“I don’t want it to happen again,” Mr. Turner said.
Updated to include statement from high school administrators.