Hadley reacts to Planning Board member’s comments 

  • Hadley Planning Board members Joseph Zgrodnik, from left, William Dywer, James Maksimoski, John Mieczkowski and Michael Sarsynski listen to Phil Palumbo, speak during a meeting at the Hadley Senior Center, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. Palumbo is a project manager for Colliers International. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • John Mieczkowski introduces himself at a candidates forum at Hopkins Academy on April 3, 2017. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/8/2019 9:51:46 PM

HADLEY — An elected member of the Hadley Planning Board who is no stranger to controversy is being criticized for comments he made about a business owner’s heritage at a board meeting this week.

During a brief discussion at Tuesday’s meeting over plans by the owners of Exotic Auto Repair on Route 9 to use the former North Hadley Auto garage at 371 River Drive, member John Mieczkowski asked whether the applicants, who were not present, would be coming to the site plan review hearing in April.

“Tell him no camels allowed here,” Mieczkowski said to Thomas Quinlan Jr., who showed the board a rendering of changes that would be made to the existing building. “There will be no camels here. Leave the camel outside.”

The comments, captured on Hadley Media’s live feed and recording of the meeting, appeared to refer to Exotic Auto owners Paul Narus and Davinder Kaur, who are originally from India and who at the time were traveling in their home country. Last fall, they got the OK to reuse the site, but the Planning Board is reopening its site plan review because a vehicle lift is being installed that will increase the height of the building.

Jes Thayer, a Hadley native, took to Facebook displaying a portion of the video and called out Mieczkowski, who is running for re-election without opposition and is also seeking a seat on the Select Board, as unfit to serve.

“Tell your neighbors. Tell them, no racists here, leave the racists outside,” Thayer wrote.

Mieczkowski on Friday defended what he said, adding that he appreciates the current business and looks forward to supporting the plans the Hadley family has to bring a business to North Hadley.

“It was just a joke,” Mieczkowski said of his comments. “It’s no big deal. There’s nothing to be offended about.”

Mieczkowski, who was recalled from the Select Board in 2002, also characterized any controversy as some residents being overly sensitive to his remarks.

“People don’t like a lot of things, but nothing I said was meant to degrade any person or race,” Mieczkowski said. He equated his mention of camels in India to how people talk about horses when referencing Americans.

Thayer said she felt it was necessary to publicize what has been an ongoing issue with Mieczkowski’s behavior, not because she is supporting any other candidates or has a vendetta against him, but to promote respect and admiration for her hometown.

“It is something that has to do fundamentally about what we say is not becoming of any town official or its people in a public space,” Thayer said. “It has to do with basic respect and dignity and not brushing aside racist jokes even for a second.”

“Many are beyond fed up with his rants,” she said.

During the meeting, Quinlan Jr. also was asked by Mieczkowski if the drawings for the plans were done overseas. “Where did that come from, Yugoslavia?” Mieczkowski asked.

The owners of Exotic Auto Body, reached at their business Friday, declined to comment for this story.

Jessica Kem, who brought to the Select Board concerns last year when a Hadley police officer put a racist meme on the department’s official Facebook page, said she was appalled by Mieczkowski’s language, describing him as using his platform as an elected official to display his own intolerance.

“His ethnic slurs make clear that he cannot be an impartial judge of the merits of the applicant’s case,” Kem said.

Planning Board Clerk William Dwyer said his board has received a complaint about what Mieczkowski said and that, based on the advice of Town Administrator David Nixon, an executive session will be held at the Planning Board’s March 19 meeting.

“It will be addressed, and we will have some discussion,” Dwyer said.

Select Board member Molly Keegan said several town officials have received complaints about Mieczkowski comments at Tuesday’s meeting.

Upon viewing the meeting video Wednesday, she sent an email to the Planning Board expressing her concern and expectation that the other four elected members deal with the issue.

“I have an expectation that it will be addressed in some way,” Keegan said.

Mark Dunn of Highland Circle sent an email to the Gazette stating that Mieczkowski’s statements reflect poorly on townspeople.

“I am absolutely disgusted and appalled if that vile behavior is what anyone thinks we voters in Hadley want or condone from our municipal leadership,” Dunn wrote.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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