Hadley Conservation Commission staffer submits resignation in protest

  • Hadley Town Hall GAZETTE STAFF

Staff Writer
Monday, July 19, 2021

HADLEY — Hadley’s lone paid staff member who assists the Conservation Commission in a part-time role plans to leave the position at the end of this month if the commission’s chairwoman is not reinstated.

In a resignation letter sent to the Select Board and town administrator Sunday, Janice Stone expressed regret at departing from the job she has held since 2005.

“I am submitting my notice because of recent events, including the failure to reappoint the chair of our commission,” Stone wrote.

Citing complaints about onerous oversight of wetlands rules by the Conservation Commission, and suggesting commissioners are not playing on “Team Hadley,” the Select Board voted 4-1 four days earlier to reduce the commission from seven to six members and remove its chairwoman, Paulette Kuzdeba. Select Board member Jane Nevinsmith cast the dissenting vote.

“It seems the Conservation Commission is just not helping the public to help move everything through smoothly, to give them their permits and to get their jobs done,” Select Board member John Waskiewicz said.

Waskiewicz came up with the idea of trimming the commission, making it more streamlined, after receiving more than two dozen complaints about the commission’s work.

“All the complaints I’ve gotten, most of them from farmers in town, is that it’s a customer-service issue,” Select Board Chairman David J. Fill said.

Board member Amy Parsons said the complaints include that members of the commission are unwilling to assist their fellow residents.

“When we’re here, we’re Team Hadley, that is who we are, that is what we are. I don’t care about your political affiliation, I don’t care about anything else,” Parsons said. “I’m Team Hadley, and I’m here for the town.”

“What I have found, and what I am disturbed about, our citizens of Hadley, when they have gone to the (Conservation Commission), have not had good relations with them in guiding them through the processes they have had,” said Select Board member Joyce Chunglo.

Kuzdeba, though, defended the commission, especially with a growing caseload as it has been charged with regulating campers and docks along the Connecticut River.

“We are very helpful to people in working with them,” said Kuzdeba, a member of the commission since 2006.

She said commission members are dedicated team players working long hours, and that just four permits have been denied since 1973. Kuzdeba added that removing her without just cause could be a violation of federal and civil rights and interference with her legal duties under the Massachusetts Wetlands Act and the town wetlands bylaw.

Stone’s decision follows the resignations of two members, Jim Hafner and Toni Lyn Morelli, who also quit over the Kuzdeba’s removal.

Stone wrote that she would rescind her decision if Kuzdeba is returned to the commission. She was hired when the late Alexandra Dawson, known throughout New England for her expertise in conservation law and environmental activism, was the commission’s chairwoman.

“I have enjoyed my time working for the Hadley Conservation Commission for 16 years and appreciate all their time and effort on behalf of the town’s wetlands, water and farmland,” Stone wrote.

At the end of the Select Board’s meeting, Fill appealed for Stone to stay on due to the coordination for the Route 9 widening project, which will also include replacing town water and sewer lines.

“You’ve been great to deal with and very informative and knowledgeable,” Fill said.

The board had been scheduled to meet Monday to appoint new commission members, but canceled that meeting.

Instead, Town Administrator Carolyn Brennan informed the board that a notice would be posted on the town website seeking a new Conservation Commission member, and that a letter of interest and qualifications would have to be submitted by July 23, with the remaining four Conservation Commission members to review and make recommendations to the Select Board for its Aug. 4 meeting.

The Select Board has since received letters from residents worried that anonymous complaints about the Conservation Commission and Kuzdeba led to the decision.

Mark Dunn, an elected member of the Planning Board, asked the board to reverse course.

“I urge you to consider hitting pause and publicly hearing complaints and the accused’s defenses fairly so that you may learn that the majority of voters prefer that the seven-member ConComm remain intact and instead be made aware of complaints regarding their conduct,” he wrote.

Also writing a letter was former Select Board member John Allen, who suggested that the board rescind its vote and abide by customary practice that the board not act on complaints without a full investigation.

Nevinsmith said among the 12 letters she has received since the last meeting, all are asking that the board change its decision.