The Hadley, Massachusetts, planning board wants to put to rest a controversy over comments made by one of its members. But some critics are still not satisfied.
At the March 19 board meeting, member John Mieczkowski defended the comments that set off a town-wide controversy.
“In regards to the complaints that are flying around town, and out of town, and everywhere else,” he began, “What happened at that March 5th meeting in no way, shape or manner, was to intimidate anyone, embarrass anyone.”
Mieczkowski had publicly told a contractor, who was representing a client of Indian heritage, that they should “not bring a camel” to the next meeting. Five people have since made formal complaints to the board, saying Mieczkowski was feeding into offensive and racist stereotypes.
In his statement, Mieczkowski played down his comments as well as the complaints, and said the applicants in question have told him they were not offended.
“No matter how this board, or any other board, votes or talks, or says something,” Mieczkowski said, “there's always somebody that doesn't like it.”
And near the end of his statement, he said, “If somebody's offended, I apologize to you, but in my heart, there's no intention of any wrongdoing.”
One community member at the meeting, Nicole Blum, told the board Mieczkowski did not truly apologize for his comments, or seem to understand how they went beyond a harmless joke.
"In this current climate of extreme Islamophobia and racism, I think it's really dangerous and totally unacceptable,” Blum said.
In a statement read aloud later, the planning board said it regrets that one member's comments gave the impression the board would not give all matters a fair hearing.
Board chair James Maksimoski told NEPR he believes the matter has been dealt with.
“The planning board was satisfied that he apologized,” he said in a follow-up interview. “Some people are looking for — I’m not sure what they're looking for.”
One thing they’re looking for is a stronger denouncement of Mieczkowski's comments.
Molly Keegan, who's on the Hadley Select Board, filed one of the complaints. She said she was disappointed both in Mieczkowski's public statement and the board's response.
“Accidental or not, I believe very strongly that other public officials need to call it out, educate, and put a stop to that sort of language,” Keegan said.
Keegan said it's now up to voters to take a stand.
Mieczkowski is up for re-election on April 9, and will face write-in candidate Mark Dunn, a local architect who works at UMass Amherst.
Mieczkowski lost his seat in 2002 on the Hadley Select Board in a recall vote that also centered on his behavior.