Conway selectmen condemn racist remarks from resident

By DAYMOND STEER

The Conway Daily Sun

Published: 04-19-2024 9:56 AM

On Tuesday, Conway Selectmen Steve Porter and Ryan Shepard condemned racist comments that were made against a hotel developer at the April 11 planning board meeting.

The comments were made during a conceptual review of Ashok Patel's proposal to construct 80 townhouses and 25 apartment units on the front lawn of the Red Jacket Resort, which he and his partners recently bought for $8 million. The hilltop property suffered a fire in April 2022 that destroyed the south wing of the resort. Patel's group also is involved with the Home2Suites, the Fox Ridge, the Yankee Clipper and the yet-to-open Cambria Hotel in North Conway.

During the meeting, members of the public weighed in with shock at any thoughts of putting housing on the Red Jacket's sweeping front lawn.

However, comments were halted after meeting attendee Jackie Gilmore said: “This is not a good plan. It will really destroy the flavor of this community, I pray every one of you (on the planning board) will say, ‘Stick it.’ ... I don't care if you say I'm racist, but it's New England, not New Delhi.”

On Monday, planning board chair Ben Colbath told the Sun that he will not tolerate racist comments and said he hopes Patel understands the board doesn't share Gilmore's view. 

On Tuesday, Porter, who is selectmen's representative to the planning board, brought up Gilmore's public comment.

"I'm going to publicly apologize to Mr. Patel and his family because they should not have ever been exposed to something like that," said Porter. 

Porter said the planning board has taken some criticism for being slow to react, but he said that comment took everyone off guard and they did their best to respond. 

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"I'm going to personally say that in all my years sitting in public office, I never thought I would have to endure such a lack of ... judgment from the public," said Porter.

"I don't think any of us thought that at this stages in our lives we would ever have to hear somebody say that in a public forum. I know there's a lot of passion when it comes to the Red Jacket. But in my opinion, that was no place to hear those comments. And it quickly soured with the evening from that point on."

Shepard said he attended the meeting and heard the comments.

"It was highly unexpected and highly uncalled for," said Shepard. "When you start a statement with 'I don't care if you think I'm a racist, but,' your argument for whatever you're trying to argue, you've automatically shot it down."