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Released minutes reveal stories behind Hadley badge flap 



@JackSuntrup
Friday, February 03, 2017

HADLEY — Behind closed doors, the Select Board had already discussed two complaints against Selectman Donald Pipczynski by the time a third complaint bubbled up.

By then, Pipczynski wanted concerns over the third complaint — that in October he improperly flashed his civilian police commissioner badge to enter an event at the Hadley Young Men’s Club — to be aired in public. The board did, and after a tense public exchange, ended up voting to refer the matter to the state Ethics Commission on Nov. 29.

“I was really taking a beating in executive session,” Pipczynski said Tuesday.

Details of what happened behind closed doors before then, and details on what the other complaints actually were, were scant — until Jan. 4, when the Select Board voted to release the executive session minutes.

The first complaint the board discussed on Aug. 31 originated from an Aug. 19 incident when Pipczynski was accused by Young Men’s Club members of abusing his authority and using his title to intimidate club members.

According to the released minutes, Pipczynski was accused of telling members “this will be the second Select Board member to have an issue with this club and you guys are going to have some big problems on your hands.” He was accused of doing the same at one of the board of directors’ places of employment.

At the Aug. 31 meeting, Pipczynski explained his actions to the board, and said he didn’t use his title as a selectman to intimidate the club members. The minutes do not elaborate.

In an interview, Pipczynski said he heard of backroom poker games for money and a gun being on the club premises. He said he used his keycard to enter the club to voice concerns as a club member, not a selectman. Management, Pipczynski said, denied that there was anything nefarious going on in the club.

“I didn’t have any reason to doubt it,” Pipczynski said of management’s account. “Two days later, my keycard wouldn’t work, and the club voted to relinquish my membership because they said I was causing them trouble.”

At the Aug. 31 executive session, the board found the club’s allegations credible. On a 4-to-1 vote — Pipczynski was the lone “no” vote — the board issued a letter of reprimand.

In a Sept. 7 executive session, the board discussed another complaint, this time from a woman who said Pipczynski identified himself as a Hadley police officer following a traffic accident.

It was unclear from the minutes when the accident was, but Pipczynski said he heard about the complaint made to the police after the Aug. 31 executive session.

At a Sept. 7 executive session, Select Board Chairwoman Molly Keegan said the allegation was “bordering on a criminal offense,” according to the minutes. She said it also reflects poorly on the police department.

According to the minutes, Selectwoman Joyce Chunglo recommended referring the complaint to the state Ethics Commission. Pipczynski told the board the woman falsely identified him as a police officer.

Pipczynski said Tuesday he rear-ended the woman’s car. When the two were talking after the accident, Pipczynski said he reached into his wallet to hand her his selectman business card. The woman spotted his police commissioner badge, and mistook him for a Hadley police officer, Pipczynski said.

“I says, ‘no ma’am, I’m an elected official, not a police officer,’” Pipczynski said. He said the woman took issue with Pipczynski’s loud voice.

“I says, ‘ma’am, I have a loud voice. I’m not yelling at anybody,’” Pipczynski said.

Still, Pipczynski said the woman called Hadley police to complain about Pipczynski.

“She says it’s police officers like me that are killing the black people in America,” Pipczynski said. He said the woman was white.

At the Sept. 7 executive session, on a 3-to-2 vote — members John Waskiewicz and Pipczynski voted “no” — the board referred the second complaint to the Ethics Commission.

Pipczynski has said that the board is motivated by politics and that the charges are a waste of time and town resources. He said that since the two incidents involve an old police department-issued badge, he has thrown away the badge.

Keegan, Chunglo and Selectman Gerald Devine have all voiced concerns in open session about Pipczynski. Waskiewicz has also done so, but he has sided with Pipczynski on the two votes referring the matters to the Ethics Commission.

On the third complaint, heard at both the Nov. 10 and Nov. 29 Select Board meetings, members said Pipczynski was in the wrong when he used his badge to enter a private event at the Hadley Young Men’s Club.

Pipczynski said he was busing University of Massachusetts Amherst students to the Oktoberfest event for his employer Five Star Transportation at the time. He has said that he used his selectman’s badge to enter the event as a police commissioner, not a police officer.

But Keegan hasn’t agreed with the explanation, and said the incidents are part of a pattern.

“You’re not hearing us,” Keegan said at a Nov. 10 meeting when the board was discussing the third complaint. “You continue to act independently and alone. And that really concerns me.”

“You shouldn’t have been using it in an authoritative manner,” Chunglo told Pipczynski then.

David Giannoti, spokesman for the ethics commission, said due to strict confidentiality rules and statutes, he could neither confirm nor deny the commission has received the complaints, much less say anything about their status.

Pipczynski said the process will be slow-moving, and that the only punishment he could receive from the commission is a letter reprimanding him.

He said the commission is tied up with more serious allegations, like embezzlement and other white-collar crime.