JACKMAN — Town Manager Tom Kawczynski was fired Tuesday morning in a unanimous vote by selectmen that followed an uproar after his racist views became public in recent days.
After his firing, Kawczynski lambasted the media for what he called inaccurate portrayals of his remarks, while also pledging that his cause is now advocating for “white civil rights.”
A standing-room only crowd of about 50 people at the Town Office watched as the selectmen, in open session just before 10 a.m., moved to terminate Kawczynski’s employment. The motion carried unanimously, 4-0. There did not appear to be anyone in the crowd who supported Kawczynski.
The town will pay him a $30,000 severance as part of an agreement he signed stating he will not take legal action against the town.
Kawczynski told the assembled news media that he agreed to the settlement – which he called “a firing without cause” – because of his “desire to make sure the people of Jackman no longer undergo any of the unwanted media attention and scrutiny, which they’re receiving today.”
Kawczynski, who was hired in June at a $49,000 annual salary, started posting his racist ideas on his website New Albion in November. The page labels the group as one defending the people and culture of New England, and it ultimately called for people of different races to “voluntarily separate.”
Tuesday morning, Kawczynski commented further to the media on the New Albion “movement,” saying it’s his “honor to lead.”
“We are a cultural fit,” he said. “We are open to all ethnicities, all races. And I reject categorically the suggestion that I am a racist, a bigot, a Nazi, or any of the other foul names which have been attributed to me or my wife. What I will say, and I will say this quite publicly, is I do believe that we have the rights as citizens, as American citizens, to assert that some ideas are better than others and to have discussions about those ideas. That does not take away people’s constitutional rights to express them. But no citizen, without regard to what their office is, should have to give up their rights of free expression or freedom of assembly.”
While Kawczynski on Tuesday rejected suggestions that he is “hateful” or a “white separatist,” he also doubled-down on inflammatory racial views. Addressing assembled media, he noted that he has “serious questions” about Islam, even as he insisted, “I hate no race and I love all people.” And yet, he added, “I do love white people, and I love white people as white people.”
His posts on Facebook and Gab – a social media network associated with the far right – and the posts he shared from other users run contrary to the defensive statements he made Tuesday morning.
“Haiti has been a sh**hole from day 1,” he wrote in one post entered after President Trump reportedly uttered the word in a White House meeting with senators on immigration. “To quote Papa John’s, if better ingredients make better pizzas, does it not also follow that better people make better countries?” he asked in another.
Additionally, on the topic of immigration, he said that he would be open to allowing immigrants from Norway, but not from Africa or Haiti.
Kawczynski also shared posts from other users that depict countries where a majority of black people live as being inferior or dangerous. One post that he shared from a user named Phillip Marlowe reads, “God, they are sh**hole countries. Black countries everywhere suck (expletive). Why do you think they are always trying to move to White countries?”
After the board voted to terminate Kawczynski’s employment, residents called out to the board, thanking them for their decision.
Marie Harnois, a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, said it was heartening to see the board and the people of Jackman take a stand against bigotry.
“I’m glad that the town has proved to everybody that this is not who we are,” Harnois said of the selectmen’s decision to fire Kawczynski. “It’s just a good feeling.”
Jayme French, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, explained the terms of the termination agreement on behalf of the board. Kawczynski was in the probationary period of his employment, he said, and the town was able to terminate the contract at any point.
“The select board intends to move forward and do what’s necessary to ensure a vibrant, welcoming tourist community such as Jackman,” French said. “We also appreciate and would like to thank the community for their support and patience along the way through this process.”
French and the rest of the board members would not answer additional questions, and they referred reporters to town attorney Warren Shay.
Shay said that while the board could terminate Kawczynski’s contract without cause because of his probationary status, they wanted to pay the additional $30,000 settlement to ensure no legal action would be taken against Jackman and they could move beyond this controversy as quickly as possible.
Shay revealed that Kawczynski’s probationary status had been extended before this incident occurred, saying selectmen had reservations about him. He did not know the reason for the extension and did not elaborate further.
Shay would not go into more detail about the contract between Kawczynski and the town.
Asked how thoroughly the board had vetted Kawczynski before he was offered the town manager’s job, he said, “They did a thorough vetting job, and some people just fly under the radar.”
It is likely that the board will examine future candidates’ social media accounts, he said, without specifying if that had happened with Kawczynski.
Shay did not know if Kawczynski applied directly to the board for the job as town manager or he was hired through an agency. French would not answer questions about Kawczynski’s hiring, either.
Eric Conrad, communications director for the Maine Municipal Association, which offers its services to Maine towns when they are looking to fill municipal positions, said the MMA had no part in hiring Kawczynski but did speak with town officials on Friday when news broke that the town manager promoted white separatist ideas.
“I was proud of the way the community handled it,” Conrad said. “When we talked with them Friday, we didn’t know how they were going to handle it, but we knew they were taking it very seriously.”
‘White civil rights’
Soon after his firing Tuesday, Kawczynski took to social media to announce that he “lost a job” but “gained a cause.”
Writing on Gab, Kawczynski said, “The Battle for #WhiteCivilRights begins today.”
“All citizens deserve the same legal protections and status in America,” he wrote. “I will speak to this and fight for this, not because I am motivated by hatred, but rather with passionate love for our people, our heritage, and to see a future for our children.”
He also launched a FreeStartr fundraising account with a goal of raising $20,000.
By Tuesday evening, he had received a single $20 donation.
“My name is Tom Kawczynski, formerly the Town Manager of Jackman, Maine. For daring to speak out that whites should have the same equal protections as all other races in America, I lost my job,” he wrote on the page. “But, I have taken on a cause much larger than myself, and I hope you’ll consider supporting me and my family through this difficult time. We need to raise $30,000 to re-establish ourselves and continue fighting for free speech and legal equality.”
Residents speak out
Carl Marihuber said he hopes the town will be able to recover from all of the negative press that has come with Kawczynski’s comments.
“I hope we get back on our feet, and I hope this reflects well on the town, because we won’t put up with any racist or religious segregation, period,” he said.
He said it was unfortunate, although probably necessary, that the board decided to make a settlement payment.
“I wish it had never happened,” he said.
Marihuber hopes the board will be more careful when it chooses the next town manager, but he said he understands how Kawczynski could slip through the vetting procedure.
“I’m sure they’ve learned something from the process, and once again I’m going to say that as a small community, they did their best,” he said. “How do you see something like this coming?”
Jackman Town Manager Thomas Kawczynski, right, looks Tuesday morning at Selectman Alan Duplessis before the Board of Selectmen voted to terminate his contract. (David Leaming/Morning Sentinel)