JACKMAN, Maine — A week after the local select board fired the town manager over the revelation that he was cultivating a “white homeland” in northern New England, residents here are getting on with their lives and back to work on the challenges facing this small community near the Canadian border.
The controversy around Tom Kawczynski — and flurry of national media attention that climaxed last week with his firing — has blown through Jackman, leaving a position to fill in the town hall but changing little else, locals said Thursday.
“I would say we didn’t skip a beat,” said Selectman Alan Duplessis, who along with his three colleagues voted to fire Kawczynski last Tuesday.
With the manager out of office, if not gone from the town, Jackman residents are turning back to the work of securing their emergency medical care, which was threatened last summer, and searching for a solution to the frequent blackouts that roll through with winter storms.
They are also working to restore the community’s reputation, which many here believe was sullied by Kawczynski’s statements decrying Islam as “barbarism” and suggesting that the country would be better off off if people of different races “voluntarily separate.” This effort received a boost Thursday from Maine’s senior senator.
“I’m very proud that this community came together to solve a tough problem in the right way,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins told a group of 50 people who gathered for lunch at Schmooses Pub & Grill on Main Street Thursday. “I want the world to know … that this is a warm, welcoming community of hardworking people.”
The select board ended Kawczynski’s contract four days after the Bangor Daily News reported that he is the founder and leader of New Albion, a pro-white organization that opposes people “from different cultures” coming to northern New England. It hired Mitchell Berkowitz as interim manager days after that, but plans to move more slowly in hiring a permanent replacement, according to Duplessis.
Berkowitz, who has been a town manager in several communities across northern New England, is now working remotely and is expected in Jackman by mid-February, town administrative secretary Heidi Dionne said. The Maine Municipal Association, which also had a role in Kawczynski’s hiring, will help vet candidates and officials intend to proceed with care, Duplessis said.
“We’re not going to be in any hurry,” the selectman said.
Kawczynski, who did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, also appears to be moving on. “I think it improbable we stay in town much past when the weather makes moving practical,” he wrote in a post on the New Albion website the day after he was fired.
The 37-year-old former manager was paid $30,000 upon the termination of his contract. He has since started a new website and is soliciting donations to “support white civil rights in America.”
For Bob Foster, who came to see Collins speak at Schmooses, that sum is a bitter pill. “I kinda frowned on paying him to leave, but it’s the lesser of two evils I guess,” said the 83-year-old retired forestry worker.
The payment was made even as the town, which has a population of fewer than 900 people, is searching for funds to support the Jackman Community Health Center.
With the nearest hospital 50 miles away, the Penobscot Community Health Care facility is the primary medical care for a large swath of northwest Maine. Last summer, its ability to offer around-the-clock care took a blow when MaineGeneral closed its nursing home in Jackman, taking with it the night nurses who’d staffed the health center in off hours.
The nursing home had been losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for a decade, according to MaineGeneral spokeswoman. Since it left, the health center has sustained around-the-clock care by keeping its staff on-call in off hours, but the arrangement is a challenge to sustain financially.
“There never was a loss of care, the problem is the ability to pay for it,” said Dr. Patricia Doyle, a Jackman resident and physician at the health center.
Collins said Thursday that she and Senator Angus King intend to look for ways to help the health center from Washington, including whether it can be exempt from certain federal regulations on emergency medical services.
Follow Jake Bleiberg at: @JZBleiberg.
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