NORTH SMITHFIELD – Discussion over resident use of the North Smithfield High School athletic facilities took a negative turn this week, with a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission resigning over comments made online by other public officials.
Chase Fuller submitted a resignation letter on Monday, March 28, saying he’s, “disgusted with the way elected officials are behaving,” and that issues he cares about were, “trivialized.”
The conflict began after Fuller, an avid runner and founder last year of a town club based on the sport –dubbed “N.S. Reservoir Jogs” – encountered a sign posted by the high school fields stating that the facilities were off-limits to residents.
Fuller took a photo of the laminated sign, which instructed, “You can go fly a kite. Just do it somewhere else.”
NRI NOW was made aware of the note by a reader, and contacted School Committee Chairman James Lombardi on Sunday, March 20. Lombardi said that the sign was not authorized or hung by anyone in the school department and had likely been posted as a joke by an anonymous party.
At the time, the chairman said the note had already been removed once from school property, and that if it had been replaced, it would again be removed. He said that top gates by the facilities had recently been locked due to the ongoing construction of new bathrooms and concession stands, but that a schedule for resident usage of the track and basketball court was being finalized, and would be released soon.
That schedule came out on Thursday, March 24 – the same day The Valley Breeze published an article in which Fuller discussed his reaction to the sign, questioning the assertion that it wasn’t posted by school officials.
“One thing that doesn’t add up is that if this sign is a joke, who would know enough about the underlying context to make the sign?” Fuller reportedly asked, also recalling a previous incident in which an unknown man had rudely told him to leave the track, yelling “something about people from other communities,” according to the article.
“You couldn’t be an ordinary citizen with no vested interest in this issue and come up with the idea to post this sign as a joke,” Fuller was quoted as saying. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“There’s all this coded language,” Fuller added. “People don’t want people who don’t look like them to use the track. There’s no trust among the community at all, there’s just this pearl-clutching resentment.”
Lombardi reacted to the story, stating he was, “surprised to hear,” about Fuller’s experiences at the school track, and that he wished the commission member, “would have contacted us directly, so that we did not have to learn about this incident through the media.”
“As a NS Parks and Rec Committee member, we should all be working together,” Lombardi wrote. “To be honest, I’m not sure how your experience relates to the town as a whole or some ‘code,’ but I’ll move on.”
“Throughout the discussions of Veterans Memorial Stadium, and specifically the NS track and field – and in conjunction with our joint meeting with the Town Council – we always considered it to be a town asset with public access,” Lombardi wrote. “I fully understand the confusion with the top gates locked due to construction but we were coming out with a schedule when the story was published. I would like to ask for an investigation on who put up the sign and who spoke to you. Can you email me with the times, dates, and location of the incidents so we can review the cameras to see if we can identify anyone?”
Town Council President John Beauregard also weighed in.
“It’s very unfortunate Mr. Fuller felt the need to inject race into this issue. I don’t want people from Woonsocket using the turf field either. I don’t want people from any community other than North Smithfield using the turf field without permission and/or without paying for it. Is that ‘coded language’ for anything?” Beauregard asked. “It’s because of construction of the bathrooms, not race.”
In his resignation Monday – and in response to the comments – Fuller said that he did bring the issue of track usage to the School Committee in February.
“For better or worse, we only got results after the press was involved, and I don’t regret my actions for a minute,” Fuller wrote. “People can disagree with me, but I am disgusted with the way our elected officials are behaving. They demagogue people who disagree with them. I felt like issues I care about were trivialized, and very few were taking me seriously. This is wrong, it is unfair, and I refuse to be associated with them.”
Beauregard told NRI NOW that he was surprised by the resignation.
“He said something unnecessary and unfortunate publicly, so I called him out on it publicly,” Beauregard said of the commentary, adding that the school department could have been held liable if gates to the athletic fields were left open, and someone was hurt at an active construction site. “Why insult the whole town because you’re upset you can’t run on the track? That’s why I jumped in.”
Still, Beauregard added, “It doesn’t mean he should resign.”
But Fuller said the conflict has taken the joy out of being part of town governance.
“It can be argued your ability to implement change is greater when inside an organization than from the sidelines, but I’ve decided to step back and distance myself despite this,” Fuller wrote. “For these reasons, I am submitting my resignation from the North Smithfield Parks and Recreation Commission, effective immediately.”