As Commack residents and school trustees wait to see what comes next in the Marion Carll Farm lawsuit, tempers are flaring and debates are becoming heated over the historic farm's future.
Commack residents voiced candid, sometimes critical concerns at the Commack Board of Education's June 14 meeting, questioning the district's response to , who seek to repossess the historic farm from the district on the grounds that the land is not being used as a museum, as outlined in the terms of the deed.
Superintendent Donald James announced the , revealing a 24-page response that claimed budgetary difficulties upkeeping Marion Carll Farm and requested the courts find the property belongs to the district but remove the land's covenant that it serve as a museum and education purposes, while being open to the public.
Adele Flicker, a board member of Commack Civic Association, questioned the board's motive behind asking the land use requirements be removed.
"As the voice of Commack and representatives of us, you have not done your job. We have petitions signed by almost 2,500 residents asking you to keep Marion Carll Farm ... Now we are asking you again to support the farm," Flicker said. "Your excuses, most of the residents are not buying. Those aware of what's going on think its just a ruse."
Bruce Ettenberg, president of the Commack Civic Association, wanted to know why Commack School District did not make any mention of recent plans submitted by the Association for Help of Retarded Children to use the historic farm as a therapeutic equestrian center and educational center in the detailed history of the property submitted to the courts.
"I would like to know from Dr. James why he left out the fact the Board of Education was in negotiation with the school for mentally challenged children to take over the Marion Carll Farm this winter," Ettenberg asked Thursday night.
On page 18 of the district's response to the lawsuit, Commack School District states it issued a Request for Proposals in the fall 2011, but states no proposals were received by the Nov. 8, 2011 deadline.
James did not directly answer why the AHRC's proposal for Marion Carll Farm was not mentioned in the district's response to the lawsuit. The superintendent made clear district will not go forward with negotiating the potential contract while litigation is ongoing.
"We advised the group facilitated by [Suffolk Leg. John] Kennedy from day one that there was a threat of litigation. Once litigation was in fact filed, it would be foolhardy to fight a two-front war," the district's attorney said.
Commack school district's attorney said he district could chose to make a contract with the AHRC to lease the Marion Carll Farm propety in the future, contingent on the outcome of the lawsuit, but the board trustees did not want to spend money in legal fees.
Barbara Kruger, a member of Commack-Kings Park Rotary and Friends of Marion Carll Farm, said she's been trying to get the district to consider the equestrian center for more than a year, working with AHRC, and was frustrated by board trustees answers.
"It is a viable, real project with real money behind it. Don't say there hasn't been one viable opion," Kruger said. "You could viably create the contract and get it off Commack High School's books and get this working. We have the people to do it."
Her statement caused the superintendent to admit the equestrian center is a viable project, which is why the district has drafted a preliminary contract for AHRC that is on file at the district's offices. Yet, school officials will not go forward with negotiations.
"It's unwise to pursue the contract while litigation is pending. If the heirs win, we waste additional legal fees," the district's attorney said.
Commack School District's attorney said the draft version of the contract between Commack School District and AHRC called for the property to be leased to the non-profit for 10-years, as a tenant with mandatory stipulations requiring them to carry out Marion Carll's will.
Board President Mary Jo Masciello accused Ettenberg and other members of the civic association of promoting distrust of the Board of the Education's handling of Marion Carll Farm.
"You have implied mistrust of us from the start. You were never open-minded that we are on the same side of perserving that property and doing the best for this district," Masciello said. "You have implied to people all over this town we should be discredited and we should be sued."
Commack Civic Association sent letter to Commack School District on June 1 asking for a public forum be held to discuss Marion Carll Farm, or threatening legal action. The group will further discuss issues surrounding the historic farm further 7 p.m Thursday at the .