Hadley Select Board sticks with decision to remove conservation chief amid appeals


Staff Writer
Published: 7/25/2021 12:13:51 PM

HADLEY — Appeals from both the elected Planning Board clerk and town moderator to reinstate the chairwoman of the Conservation Commission came to the Select Board this week, but board members gave no indication that they are ready to reverse course on a decision to remove her.

“I’m not interested in revisiting a vote we’ve made, but that’s just me,” said Board Chairman David J. Fill II at Wednesday’s Select Board meeting.

After chairwoman Paulette Kuzdeba was not reappointed to the commission at its July 7 meeting, and its size was reduced from seven to six members, the Select Board began collecting names and qualifications of residents interested in serving. Recommendations are anticipated for its Aug. 4 meeting, and Select Board member Joyce Chunlgo said she would prefer to wait until then to make any further decisions.

In their 4-1 vote to remove Kuzdeba, Select Board members cited what they said were residents’ complaints about onerous oversight of wetlands rules and poor customer service, and they criticized the panel’s inability to work as a “team” with other town officials.

During public comment at the Select Board meeting Wednesday, town moderator Randy Izer urged the Select Board to put Kuzdeba back on the commission.

“We believe that, you the board, did the town a huge disservice by not reappointing her, particularly in the fashion that it was done,” Izer said. “It was all one-sided and it is my opinion that the board ought to vote somehow to reinstate her, or discuss the process you used to uninstate her.”

William Dwyer, a 34-year member of the Planning Board and currently its clerk, wrote a letter to the board explaining why it needed to have Kuzdeba continue to serve.

“Rejecting the reappointment of people who know what they are doing is wrong, and it’s even worse when you don’t have a better-qualified candidate ready to step in,” Dwyer wrote.

“In trimming the ConCom by the one member most experienced with conservation law, you have set up the rest of the ConCom for failure.”

In a phone interview before the meeting, Dwyer said the decision could end up costing the town money, noting that an attorney from KP Law has been needed already to participate in a Conservation Commission meeting, and might also jeopardize or delay commercial projects that have wetlands issues.

But other public comments supported the board’s decision, with Mark Britton and Rob Baranowski, who both have campers at 93 Cemetery Road, expressing appreciation for Kuzdeba’s removal due to the challenging process of permitting their site.

“I think the board did a wonderful job,” Baranowski said.

Kuzdeba is interested in returning to the commission, and has alleged in an Open Meeting Law complaint against the Select Board that her removal and the decision to reduce the commission from seven to six members was based on one or more discussions three board members had outside a posted meeting.

Meanwhile, Select Board members continued to make appeals to conservation staff member Janice Stone to remain in the part-time paid position that she anticipates departing at the end of July unless Kuzdeba is brought back.

“You’re great to work with, you know what you’re doing, I wish you wouldn’t go,” said board member John Waskiewicz.

Stone said what the Select Board didn’t realize is that she and Kuzdeba had acted as a team, and while she understood that there were some dissatisfied customers, no complaints were brought to the commission so they could be addressed internally.

“It wasn’t just me, it was both of us,” Stone said of how the commission’s workload was handled.

Two commissioners, Toni Lyn Morelli and Jim Hafner, both resigned over Kuzdeba’s departure.

Jane Nevinsmith, the lone Select Board member who voted to keep Kuzdeba on the commission, said the board shouldn’t have acted on anonymous complaints, and it is concerning that people supposedly didn’t come forward because they are worried about retaliation.

“We do not want to live in a town where people are afraid of reprisals — we need to get rid of that attitude,” Nevinsmith said.

A public records request seeking written complaints about the commission showed that the Select Board got a few in recent months, most around the permitting of river campsites.

“Conservation is a difficult board to deal with,” wrote Dennis Pipczynski of East Street, who in May discussed his experience in getting four trailers approved for farmland on Honey Pot Road, and the last-minute demand for information he was required to get from the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

Johnny Mieczkowski Jr. of Bay Road, who served on the town’s River Bylaw Committee that developed the process for permitting campers and complying with federal mandates, wrote that commission members had withheld information and disrupted the process.

“Personal agendas are what seems to give them direction in their decisions,” Mieczkowski wrote.

Town Administrator Carolyn Brennan said she has met with Human Resources Director Ed O’Connor and Dwyer to determine if there is an option for help with administrative challenges for the Conservation Commission and other boards.

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