EASTHAM –– Benten Niggel resigned from the Eastham Elementary School Committee on Oct. 15 after charges emerged that he had “promoted the use and sale of marijuana” to high school students. The committee chair, Judy Lindahl, would not say whether the group believed the allegation was true, and interim Nauset School Supt. Brooke Clenchy would say only that “at this point in time, no one is being accused of anything.”
Niggel, 20, did not speak during the Oct. 19 virtual meeting of the committee, which he attended briefly, nor did he respond to requests for comment from the Independent. Mary Louise Sette has been appointed to take his place.
The Oct. 19 meeting began with an immediate adjournment to executive session to discuss a complaint against a committee member. Niggel was not allowed to participate in the closed session because he had already resigned from the panel.
When the public meeting resumed, Lindahl read a statement into the record: “Last week, the Eastham School Committee learned of a complaint that one of its members, Benten Niggel, had allegedly posted content on social media which was viewed by Nauset High School students and promoted the use and sale of marijuana. The committee informed Mr. Niggel of the allegations on Friday, Oct. 15.”
That same day, Lindahl said, Niggel tendered the following one-sentence letter: “Dear Chair Lindahl: Effective today I resign my position on the Eastham Elementary School Committee for personal reasons.”
“The committee views Mr. Niggel’s resignation as a personal choice and we thank Mr. Niggel for his service on the committee,” Lindahl said. “I want to be clear that the committee has not fully investigated or reached a conclusion about the truth of the allegations. Given Mr. Niggel’s resignation, and after consulting with legal counsel, the committee determined that it has no further role in investigating these allegations. As such, we now consider this matter closed.”
Eastham Police Chief Adam Bohannon said Monday that he had received information regarding Niggel but had taken no action on it. “At the time, we did not have enough reliable information or evidence to open an investigation,” Bohannon said via email. “As with every case and investigation, that could change in the future. Because of that, that is the only comment I will have on this matter at this time.”
Niggel was elected to the five-person school committee in June 2020 after running a write-in campaign for a seat no one else was vying for. Previously, while a student at Nauset Regional High School, Niggel had served as a member of the strategic planning committee. He was class president at Nauset, from which he graduated in 2019. Niggel’s mother is Barbara Niggel, the owner of Willy’s Gym in Eastham.
The Eastham Select Board accepted Niggel’s resignation on Nov. 1. His term on the school committee was not slated to end until May 2023, so, to fill the vacancy, the committee recommended Sette, who had previously served two consecutive terms but did not run for re-election in 2020. She will serve until the next town election in May 2022.
After Niggel was elected last year, committee member Ann Crozier was tasked with mentoring him. “I really can’t comment on that,” Crozier said this week. “It was his personal choice to resign, so I really can’t say anything. When I mentored him, he was brand new.”
Niggel attended Harvard College for one year after graduating from high school, but he is not currently enrolled there. His personal website stated on Oct. 14 that he had taken an academic leave of absence for the 2020-2021 school year “to pursue campaign internships, fulfill EESC committee responsibilities, invest and grow his small business, and travel.” The website has since been disabled.
According to the 2020 Orleans Town Report, he worked for five days as a substitute teacher at Nauset Regional High School.
Niggel is the owner of Paddle Cape Cod, MA, a company offering tours, rentals, and private lessons in kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. He founded the company in 2019. In August 2021 he came before the Wellfleet Select Board seeking permission to use town landings for the business. Harbormaster Will Sullivan said he was “majorly concerned” with Niggel’s description of his company’s activities. In describing his commitment to safety, Niggel wrote that Paddle Cape Cod “owns a rescue boat.”
Sullivan said he doubted that Niggel was trained in rescue. “That’s pretty dangerous territory to say that you’re going to enter into,” Sullivan said.
Niggel responded by saying that he did not advertise having a rescue vessel on his company website and that all seven of his employees were CPR and first-aid certified. “Your notion that it’s a little naive of me [to operate this business],” Niggel said, “I’m pushing back a little on that, William.”
Niggel’s letter to the select board also said that his business would organize annual cleanups of beaches on the Lower Cape. Wellfleet Director of Community Services Suzanne Grout Thomas said on Friday that she had no knowledge of Niggel sponsoring beach cleanups.
Niggel’s company is still active. Earlier this month, he posted on LinkedIn that Paddle Cape Cod did over $100,000 of business in 2021.
After his election to the Eastham School Committee in 2020, Niggel described his reasons for running in an interview with the Independent.
“At the end of the day, I know that my character and reputation should be judged on my own achievements and commitments to my community already and in the future,” he said. “If you look at everything I have done, it will only speak to the utmost integrity, respect, and appreciation for the community that has supported me for so many years.”