NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A city councilor whose comments about COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter raised a firestorm of opposition has resigned from his public offices.
Robert Moulton Jr. was to be censured on Tuesday by both the City Council and by the School Committee, to which he was elected last November.
His resignation letters were the same one sentence stating he was resigning from both seats is effective immediately.
A press release from the office of Mayor Thomas Bernard stated that:
"On Monday, July 27, School Committee member Moulton, resigned from the School Committee and the City Council, effective immediately. In light of School Committee member Moulton’s resignation the July 28 special School Committee meeting has been canceled."
The School Committee had scheduled a special meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday specifically to vote for a censure of Moulton. Bernard is the chairman of the committee.
The council agenda for its regular Tuesday meeting was amended on Friday to include a resolution on censure submitted by President Paul Hopkins and Councilors Benjamin Lamb and Jason LaForest.
Moulton, on his public access show "Let's Talk About It," called Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization and downplayed the novel coronavirus that has killed more than a half-million worldwide and nearly 150,000 Americans.
Two days later, he was forced to resign from his longtime seat and presidency on the board of the North Adams Ambulance Service.
The local Black Lives Matter group, led by Raymond Moore, had vowed to protest City Council meetings until Moulton resigned. Police are investigating a possible incident against Moore that occurred Saturday night at his home. Moore said Sunday that he has had threats made against him.
Bernard, attending a Black Lives Matter march on Sunday afternoon, said he had the "unenviable responsibility" to write the censure statement to be voted on Tuesday.
"I want to make it clear, I want to make it strong, but I also want to make it really a statement of values, not a statement that's personal," he said.
The statement from his office on Monday morning said Moulton's comments "were not consistent with the mission and values of the North Adams Public Schools, nor with the duties, responsibilities, and obligations required of each individual School Committee member."
Several committee members had posted concerns on Facebook of how Moulton could represent a diversifying school community based on his comments that he didn't understand or believe systemic racism existed or keep it safe from the pandemic.
"We want North Adams to be known as a place that is inclusive, that is a place that is diverse, that is a place that is welcoming and that a place that will respond to injustice with strong rebuke, that will respond to it with action with activism, with peaceful protest," Bernard said on Sunday. "That's what I want to see, that's what I want us to be known for and as much as this has been an incredibly difficult week for a lot of reasons."
LaForest and Lamb had both quickly condemned Moulton's remarks shortly after the show aired on Northern Berkshire Community Television. Other current and former councilors posted their disappointment and rejection of his views and concerns that they would lead people to believe the council shared them.
"While I believe that we have a right to free speech, there is nothing that says that speech is free from criticism or consequences. I find Mr. Moulton's comments calling the Black Lives Matter Movement a Terrorist Organization very offensive and divisive," wrote Councilor Lisa Blackmer. "It sends a message to many in our community that their concerns are not important or valid."
The story appeared in the Boston Globe and was picked up nationally.
The School Committee meeting for Tuesday has been canceled. The committee will discuss how to fill the vacancy at its meeting on Aug. 4. The decision is a joint one between the committee and City Council.
The City Council has taken different options in the past, including soliciting letters of interest, picking the individual who came in 10th place in the most recent election, and leaving the seat vacant.
For the last vacancy, in 2017, the council requested letters of interest and then voted in Wayne Wilkinson, who also happened to be the 10th in voting. Peter Oleskiewicz came in 10th in November's election.
Moulton was serving his sixth non-consecutive term on the City Council and his first on School Committee. He also ran twice unsuccessfully for mayor.