Council responds to Fenway Golf controversy

May 27, 2020 | Payton North

Fenway Golf, located at 112 Allen St. in East Longmeadow, was served a cease and desist order as well as a fine after opening their driving range, which is not supported by Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening plan until a later phase.
Reminder Publishing photo by G. Michael Dobbs

EAST LONGMEADOW – The Town of East Longmeadow’s Health Department has recently been in hot water for issuing a fine to local favorite Fenway Golf after the business defied Gov. Charlie Bakers order explaining that driving ranges could not be open during phase one of the plan to reopen Massachusetts. During the Town Council meeting on May 26, the town shed more light on the situation, and has alleged that the issue with Fenway Golf did not unfold the way it was presented online.

On May 23, the Fisk family, owners of Fenway Golf, posted the following statement on Facebook: “We would like to apologize to our Driving Range customers.....Yes, the range was open for a few hours yesterday, that is until the Health Department came out at 4 p.m. and served us a Cease & Desist Order, along with a FINE. We were open because we were just trying to make enough money to keep our business open.

“The driving stations are eight feet apart and physically divided, we are and have been encouraging social distancing. We were sanitizing buckets and requiring customers to bring their own golf clubs. We have also provided our employees with masks and gloves and hand sanitizer is available for all. Apparently this was a wasted effort, the fact of the matter is driving ranges aren’t ‘supposed to be open,’ we are NON-ESSENTIAL.

“At this point we do not know when the range will reopen. We will have to wait until the Governor decides our ‘non-essential’ business is worth opening. There is no guarantee we will be able to reopen the range and mini golf in time to save our business. We will have to make some difficult decisions over the next few weeks. After 80 years of doing business in this town our future is unknown.

“You would think the town would be proactive in helping small businesses that can safely reopen with little effort from the town and Health Department, but instead of helping us they gave us a fine that was NOT necessary and could have easily been a warning.

“It has now become very apparent to us that The Town of East Longmeadow does not support all small business, because if they did they would be visiting each business and working with them to reopen instead of shutting them down and handing out fines like they are God.

“Yes, our business may not be essential to them, but it is essential to our livelihood and so very important for us to carry on this family legacy.

“We so greatly appreciate all the support we receive from our valued customers! We love you! Fondly, The Fisk Family.”

The post quickly gained traction online, with over 2,200 likes, 1,600 comments and 2,700 shares.

The family later posted again on Facebook, noting that pitch and putt, par three and the snack bar were going to continue to be open daily, however mini golf, batting cages and the driving range must remain closed.

Many of those who commented sided with Fenway, noting that golf courses were opened by Baker and that the “driving range should be able to be open too.” Some suggested that Fenway fight the fine from the town, while over 300 others signed a petition on asking for East Longmeadow Director of Public Health Aimee Petrosky’s resignation.

Further in the comments, Town Councilor R. Patrick Henry commented in defense of the town, alleging that the business defied the town’s warning that Fenway could not remain open. Henry commented, “Don’t ANY of you people check the facts before you insult and malign town employees? The rules came from our ‘beloved’ Charlie Baker, and the health director rechecked to see if Fenway could stay open. The state said NO. The Health Director explained all this to Fenway and Fenway said ‘that’s ridiculous’ and opened up anyway. You can argue if you like that it’s not fair, but it’s CERTAINLY not fair to lie about the whole thing and pick on the health director. You people should be ashamed of these personal attacks.”

The next day on May 24, the East Longmeadow Police Department made a post to their Facebook page stating: “Good Afternoon East Longmeadow, We are aware that people are upset in regards to a fine that was given out to a business in town for failing to comply with Governor Baker’s guidelines to the COVID-19 virus. We do realize that these guidelines affect people’s livelihood and we do sympathize with everyone.   

“ELPD and all other Town Departments are working under these guidelines handed down to us and ask for understanding in these difficult conditions.

“Freedom of speech is a fundamental and founding principle of our nation. We would like to remind our residents to refrain from any threats against individuals or public officials as it is our obligation to investigate any criminal threats made.

“As always ELPD supports local business, our residents, and public officials. Everyone stay safe! Thank you for your understanding.”

At the May 26 East Longmeadow Town Council meeting during council comments, Town Council President Kathy Hill started off the meeting by addressing the Fenway Golf situation.

“In order to explain the reasons behind the health departments decision to issue a fine, it’s important I think for the viewing audience and the public to understand the chronology of events, and they began on May 7,” Hill explained. She continued to summarize that when the owner of the business – which Hill did not name at the start of her statement – reached out to the Health Department asking for direction on when he would be able to reopen his business. Petrosky “notified him within minutes of the Governors order’s,” Hill explained, stating that Petrosky also provided a link to the various websites to see the written order and local guidelines on enforcement.

“What ensued over the remainder of May 7 was a volley of emails back and forth between our Health Department and the owner where on two occasions the owner asked could he open this particular aspect of his business and the answer continued to be no, it is not regarded at this time by the governor as an essential business and had to remain closed. He was also told that per the governor's orders at that time on May 7 that the type of business he was running was projected to be included in phase two. At that point on May 7 the email interaction concluded,” Hill recounted.

“On May 22, our health inspector was called by the Fire Department to join them at a scene of a residence in East Longmeadow that required the attention and decision making of someone from the Health Department. When that event was over, on her way home, the health inspector on her way out of town by happenstance passed by the particular business and observed that it in fact was open,” Hill said.

From there, Hill explained that the health inspector notified the health director of her observation. Allegedly, Hill said that Petrosky first made sure online that there was not an update to Baker’s guidelines allowing for relaxed guidelines surrounding the business being closed.

“When it was determined that the business was still regarded as non–essential, the health director instructed the health inspector to issue a cease and desist order, which is accompanied as well with a $300 fine. That was delivered with the assistance of the ELPD,” Hill said.

As a result, Hill explained, the owner did comply with the order. However “what has ensued since is very troubling, because the public outcry has risen beyond what you would think would be normal discourse among respectful citizens,” Hill said.

She noted it has resulted in allegations of potential harm directed at the health director and her family. “She’s been the subject of harassment, inflammatory and insensitive pictures, none that can necessarily be authenticated. With the advancements in technology today it’s very easy to alter an image and make it appear to be something that it isn’t,” Hill said.

She then noted that as councilors, they have an obligation to uphold the health, safety and welfare of all residents, and that applies to businesses. “But we also have an obligation for our employees to do their job and to carry out, in this case, the health departments across the commonwealth are tasked with the enforcement of the governors orders, whether they like it or whether they agree with it or not,” Hill said. “The responsibility to safety and safeguard our residents extends as well to our employees and for that reason this council will stand behind our health director in that she was doing her job, she was carrying out the orders of the governor consistent with the guidelines, and she did take her due diligence, two occasions in writing via email to alert the business owner.”

With that said, Hill then noted that this was “not to portray that this town is anti-business – to the contrary, it is not. What it needs to portray is that the rules apply to everyone and they must be meted out in an equitable manner.”

As the council meeting continued, other councilors chimed in on their thoughts on the issue. Councilor Donald Anderson said he “echoed her remarks,” adding that during this time where there is a blurred understanding of Baker’s guidelines, “perhaps one warning is not enough,” Anderson said.

“There’s another circumstance that I brought to the council president’s attention of another small business that also has received a $300 fine, which again if the small business owner’s facts can be taken as accurate, it merely was a situation where he appeared he was open for business when in reality he was not,” Anderson said, noting that the business owner he spoke of was working inside of his closed business, not engaging with the public.

“I think there needs to be perhaps a better understanding of small business and how they’re run and perception may not be a reality,” Anderson said, noting however that personal attacks are uncalled for, but this is an “opportunity for understanding of how businesses are trying themselves to cope in a responsible way, and maybe there is a little more understanding that can be brought to the table.”

Hill responded, stating that at 3 p.m. that day she had received an email from the Chair of the Board of Health, Sara Perez-McAdoo, asking “what health department employees as well as town management could do to work with businesses to make sure they truly understood.” Hill further explained that this may entail the board of health and the health director putting together a webinar and inviting all of the small businesses in East Longmeadow to join in and have a discussion where everyone can be heard and if there are clarifying points that need to be made, the health officials would be there to do that.

Henry spoke at the council meeting, explaining that he was online following the Fenway Golf post, noting that he defended Petrosky and the town in the comments. “One of the things I noticed was that people were all blaming the council – well except for those that were blaming the selectmen,” he chuckled. “I don’t think, just for the purposes of people who are watching, I want to point out that the council is not involved directly at this point, because under the governor’s order the executive of the town takes over, which is the health department, the town manager, and the emergency manager. It doesn’t mean the town council ceases to exist – but insofar as decisions are made in terms of COVID–19, and those issues, the power, the control, the decision making is in the hands of the town manager and the health director, rather than us,” Henry said. He then noted that for anything else, the council is still there, they’re interested and they’re supportive.

Councilor Ralph Page expressed his concern that the cease and desist order was given at the same time as the fine. He added that he thought back to his Planning Board days with the building inspector, who often had to give a cease and desist order. “He always gave the cease and desist, and then if they continued he would come back and reinspect and then give the fine.”

Page said he is looking for consistency throughout all of the boards, and that he believes a cease and desist would have worked on its own.

“We all know the Fisk family, we know Fenway Golf, and we know how important businesses are. You know? It’s a tough time,” Page said.

Anderson added that he owns two small businesses, and perhaps the ticket that was given to Fenway should be ripped up and the $300 should be returned. “The message was delivered,” Anderson said, adding that one of the tickets that was issued to another business is going up on appeal, which would now involve police officer resources being dedicated to that appeal.

“To me, I think the message has been delivered, I think there’s a spirit of cooperation. We have fine, fine businesses here in East Longmeadow. They all are trying to work to find strategies to work, I don’t think there’s anyone intentionally trying to break the law, I think it obviously was a clear misunderstanding,” Anderson said. Hill noted that she didn’t think that his assessment was unfair, and recommended to Town Manager Mary McNally that she look into consistency across the boards and that there be a separation of the cease and desist order and the fine.

Hill then closed the discussion with the council by adding that Fenway Golf is “very, very supportive of the Town of East Longmeadow.”

“It’s a longstanding business, it’s a family run business, and during our 125th celebration last year they were very, very accommodating in lending use of their facilities to the town to run an event for children, and by way of donating their time and their resources have continued to show their support for the town. In fairness to them, they deserve those kudos to be heard,” Hill said.

McNally said the comments of the council are noted and have been considered, and that progress would “hopefully” be made on May 27 with some of the issues that had been discussed.

Reminder Publishing reached out to Fenway Golf for comment but did not receive a response to requests by press time.

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