GREENWICH — The town has abandoned its plan to go to court over a controversial agreement that severely limits the use of the lights at Greenwich High School’s Cardinal Stadium.
The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Thursday to not pursue the case, without any debate and saying only that it made the decision at the recommendation of outside legal counsel the town had brought in to examine the issue.
“The board looked at it, got advice and, based on the advice, decided we shouldn’t do it,” said Selectman Sandy Litvack, with First Selectman Peter Tesei in agreement.
Last November, the Board of Education voted to pursue legal action to attempt to modify the 2003 agreement that restricts the use of the stadium lights to 16 times a year. That action had needed approval of the selectmen.
Litvack, an attorney, said his perspective on the issue was just as a member of the board.
“I could not justify spending town money to initiate litigation at this time with respect to the existing stipulation,” he said.
The argument over the use of the stadium lights has persisted for nearly two decades. The lights were installed in 2003 after a three-year battle between neighbors and the town, which ultimately led to a legal compromise that allowed the lights to be installed but limited the number of times they could be used.
In February, the Board of Selectmen and Board of Education met jointly in an executive session with town attorneys to discuss the case. No action was taken at the time, with nothing done on the case until the Thursday vote. Tesei and Litvack left the door open to reconsider, saying they would not be pursuing court action “at this time.”
Many parents and students involved in sports programs at GHS had demanded a change in the policy, and the school board voted last November to pursue legal action. The demand to use the lights increased last school year, when classes at GHS started later, pushing practice and game times later. The situation worsened in fall after Daylight Saving Time ended and it got darker earlier.
The selectmen decided to vote Thursday because the school board did not plan to “revisit” its November decision, Tesei said.
Board of Education Chairman Peter Bernstein said the selectmen’s vote was “not unexpected” and was based on the decision of a previous school board. He became chairman last December, after the board’s vote.
“Even without moving forward with litigation, there has been useful dialogue about the lack of adequate playing surfaces across the town, beyond just lit fields, and how those we do have are utilized by both the students and town residents,” Bernstein said. “The administration continues to work toward finding solutions for the fall and spring seasons to ensure we meet the needs of the students.”
The agreement governing use of the lights is between the town and Bill Effros, a neighbor of GHS. On Thursday, Effros blasted the Board of Education, saying last November’s vote to pursue litigation was an attempt to harass him “by filing an expensive lawsuit it could not win, in the hope I would not be able to afford to defend myself.”
Effros said the Board of Selectmen “properly refused to go along with this scheme” and said it would have exposed the town to sanctions from the court. Effros also insisted there would not be a revision of the agreement.
“The Board of Education will have to honor, in perpetuity, the stipulations it made as part of the 2003 court-ordered settlement,” Effros said. “There will be no ‘renegotiation’.”
At Thursday’s meeting, Litvack said he had spoken with Effros in the hopes of finding a way to collaborate without litigation or adversarial proceedings but said, “I was not successful.”
Effros has maintained the 2003 agreement has its roots in an agreement from the 1960s, when the high school first opened on Hillside Road. Residents were told at the time that the agreement would be honored in perpetuity and that playing fields could be used only during the daytime, he said.