SMF’s Land Grab Continues

The Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation (SMF) — a Vineyard conservation nonprofit that has long since lost sight of its founder’s mission — is still trying to steamroller Ben Ramsey and Nisa Counter into giving up their land on Blue Barque Road in Chilmark.

For a summary of the case, see “Slantwise.” It includes links to all my previous reports on the topic at the end.

Through the winter and spring I’ve been often asked what was going on with the case. Through the winter, the answer was “Not much.” Ben and Nisa were in Panama, where Nisa’s family lives and Ben had work. With the advent of spring, the slow grinding of Land Court law resumed.

Judge Alexander Sands has been consistently urging the parties to mediate. SMF has just as consistently refused. When the land dispute arose, Ben and Nisa tried to persuade SMF to agree to mediation. No dice, said SMF. They sued Ben and Nisa instead.

“Land Grab,” my first report on SMF vs. Ramsey & Counter, broke and still holds this blog’s record for most views — and it’s still being read.

Through its high-powered lawyer, Diane Tillotson, SMF said it wouldn’t mediate because it was afraid that the mediation sessions wouldn’t remain confidential. It fingered blogs (including this one) and “social media” as the potential blabbermouths. This is transparently a crock. (1) Ben and Nisa’s supporters (including me) have been using blogs and social media to get the word out because the island media, notably the Martha’s Vineyard Times, have been such staunch cheerleaders for SMF. (2) SMF’s real problem with blogs and social media seems to be that SMF can’t manipulate us the way it does the print media. (3) If small-town living teaches you nothing else, it teaches you when shutting up is the best thing to do. We’re not going to endanger the mediation process by spilling any beans.

Nevertheless, I and others decided to lay low. We didn’t want to freak Ms. Tillotson out. Maybe if Ms. Tillotson wasn’t freaked out, SMF would agree to mediate?

In your dreams, honey. Hasn’t happened. All that’s happened is that many people who’ve been following the case and haven’t heard anything in months think it’s all over and that Sheriff’s Meadow won.

Not so. The case is plodding its way toward a trial date in the fall. Ben and Nisa can’t afford counsel. Ben’s been doing the research and they’ve been representing themselves. SMF is still resisting mediation because it knows that mediation will focus on the facts of the case, rather than legal razzle-dazzle, and the facts are not on their side.

Now another summer is upon us. Many visitors and summer residents want to support organizations that promote conservation and try to protect everything that makes Martha’s Vineyard special. This is great! There are several worthy alternatives to SMF. Check out the Vineyard Conservation Society or the Vineyard Open Land Foundation or the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society.

If you’re disturbed by SMF’s attempt to bully an island couple into giving up the land they purchased from Ben’s aunt, tell them so. Ask them why they’re so afraid of mediation. Hell, ask where they’re getting the money to pay their fancy lawyer. SMF executive director Adam Moore can be reached by phone at 508-693-5207 or by fax at 508-693-0683. SMF can be snail-mailed at:

Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation
Wakeman Conservation Center
57 David Avenue
Vineyard Haven, MA 02568

Or you can use the comment form on the SMF website.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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6 Responses to SMF’s Land Grab Continues

  1. Tom Counter says:

    Press on Susanna !!!,
    As a former Executive Director of the Vineyard Conservation Society and the Vineyard Open Land Foundation, which pioneered the “Island Resident Lots” program, providing lots for those valuable island residents who live year round there and who can’t compete with off island incomes, it is ironic to see the Wakeman Center, which we created in the 70s, be used to house this disgracefully behaving group. Even VOLF which donated the land for it, has left the building. This should tell us something about their ways. And that my daughter has been the recipient of such power hungry abuse is even more sick. I wish I could do more to aid Ben & Nisa’s cause. Mary P. Wakeman would be sad to see this going on and so would Henry Beetle. Hough who founded the SMF. I knew them both to be the most ethical people who cared about these issues. Thank you Susanna for printing the truth about this.


    • You’re welcome, Tom, and thank you so much for all the work you did with VCS and VOLF. As far as SMF is concerned — I dearly hope that “what goes around, comes around,” and that it happens soon.


  2. Carol Lashnits says:

    It seems like we could help find them a lawyer to take this on pro bono for Nisa and Ben. Don’t you think? It’ll be too hard to fight this without legal counsel.


    • If you know a lawyer, especially one with land court experience, who might be willing to take the case pro bono or close to it, please put Ben and Nisa in touch with him/her.


    • I didn’t know about this until today. Carol is absolutely right. The courts respect ANY lawyer, bad or good, more than they respect someone without one. I’ve been busy with the shark tournament but this is just another form of shark hunting. I have 1 good tie and I’ll try. It would be ideal to get a Boston lawyer who summers here.


      • Judge Sands seems to respect Ben and Nisa pretty well. The challenge is that the law is all about procedures, precedents, and nuances, and it’s hard for someone who hasn’t been trained in them to keep up with someone who has. If you have a lead, great.


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