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Planning board chair under fire for offensive comments wants reappointment

Published On: Dec 19 2013 07:26:30 PM MST   Updated On: Dec 19 2013 08:15:05 PM MST

Ravalli County Commissioners interviewed Jan Wisniewski for a possible fourth term.

The Hamilton man's comments on Native Americans has created major controversy.


The chairman of the Ravalli County planning board, under fire for comments made about Native Americans, wants to be reappointed.

Commissioners interviewed Jan Wisniewski for the position, but haven't made a decision.

Commissioners issued a formal apology to Salish Kootenai tribal members for Wisniewski's comments made at a public hearing about "drunken Indians."

Wisniewski's time on the planning board is up this month. Thursday, commissioners interviewed the Hamilton man for a possible fourth term.

Wisniewski offended Salish leaders when, according to meeting minutes, he said law enforcement officials in Havre told him their jails were filled with "drunken Indians" who lived off the reservation.

Salish leaders had been invited to Ravalli County to discuss turning their sacred Medicine Tree south of Darby into a federal trust.

"If you reappoint him," said former Ravalli County commissioner, Carlotta Grandstaff, "this is going to reflect on your board. This will reflect on you. You'll be the racist."

Commissioners apologized for Wisniewski's comments, but did not censure him.

"I believe his remarks betrayed the public's trust," said Mary Barton.

Wisniewski declined a formal TV interview. But he said the minutes of the meeting with tribal leaders needed correction. He had no further comment on what was incorrect.

Wisniewski said he's retained an attorney so the issue "doesn't get distorted." He cited First Amendment rights.

Wisniewski had two supporters.

"I'll guarantee that he is not a racist," said Dan Floyd. "That is blown totally out of proportion."

One supporter said Wisniewski was only repeating what somebody told him.

The comments upset communities on or near the reservation near Havre.

Wisniewski's future on the board is up in the air until January 2. Commissioners will decide then whether to reappoint him.