Residents file lawsuit against Select Board over Little Harbor purchase

Jun 4, 2022

A group of residents led by former Select Board member Brenda Eckstrom have filed a lawsuit against the Wareham Select Board that, in part, alleges the town unlawfully used Community Preservation Act funds in its purchase of the Little Harbor Golf Course.

The lawsuit, filed on May 23, pits a group of 11 plaintiffs against the Select Board and its members, including its three newer members who weren’t on the board during the time that the town made plans to purchase Little Harbor.

The plaintiffs, who have not yet retained an attorney, are challenging the board’s use of community preservation funds to purchase a golf course to be managed by a for-profit company. A preliminary injunction filed on Tuesday, May 31, also asks the court to stop the sale of the golf course.

The Plymouth County Registry of Deeds website shows that a deed for Little Harbor was filed under the town’s name on Tuesday, which may mean it’s too late for the sale to be prevented.

In essence, the plaintiffs argue that the town went against a state law that details the allowed uses of Community Preservation funds, $2 million of which were approved by Town Meeting for use in buying Little Harbor Golf Course.

The lawsuit includes several documents and an email between town officials presented as exhibits in the case. In one email attached to the complaint, town counsel Richard Bowen said that the town is still managing the property although some of the specific services relative to operating a golf course are being contracted out.

An official said Thursday that such agreements are commonplace. In fact, Wareham’s Tremont Nail Factory, purchased in part with Community Preservation Funds, will soon have a private company overseeing the site’s redevelopment: The Bentley Companies.

The lawsuit asks for the courts to overturn the vote approving the purchase of the golf course, block the purchase itself and recommend that the Community Preservation Committee hire a lawyer to review future funding requests. The committee did receive information from the town’s legal counsel, evident in the email from Bowen, about the section of state law cited in the lawsuit.

"We are aware that a suit has been filed but there are some questions about service,” said Select Board Chair Judith Whiteside in an email. “This project was backed by Town Meeting by a vote of 423 to 34. The ten plaintiffs, who spoke against the golf course and voted on the losing side, are trying to use the courts to achieve what they could not through the democratic process."

The lawsuit cites state law that the group interprets to mean that the town couldn’t hire a for-profit company to manage a town property. The section they cite references a town’s ability to delegate management responsibilities to town agencies and eligible non-profits organizations.

One of the plaintiffs, Brenda Eckstrom, said she isn’t against golf courses. It’s the running of town property, purchased through CPC funds, as a commercial business that’s problematic, she said.

A hearing on the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Tuesday, June 7 in Brockton Superior Court.