NORTH ADAMS — Despite the back-to-back resignations of two members in recent weeks, the City Council remains committed to doing the people’s work, according to members of the now-seven member body.
“We need to continue to move forward,” council President Lisa Blackmer said Wednesday. “We have work to do. The rest of us will continue to do that work on behalf of the citizens of North Adams.”
Neither Harpin nor LaForest has responded to multiple requests from The Eagle for comment, and their official resignation letters submitted to the city were brief. Both took to social media to comment.
LaForest posted on Facebook that, along with personal and professional reasons, “the shameful dirty back-door politics that has marked this council” were reasons for his departure; Harpin cited an “increasingly toxic council environment.”
But, members of the council who spoke to the Eagle on Wednesday had a different outlook.
“I am concerned that people make a commitment for two years and don’t keep that commitment,” Blackmer said Wednesday, referring to the resignations.
Is the council a toxic environment?
“I don’t know,” Blackmer said, “I think there are seven councilors who are still on the council who are working to get the work done.”
Councilor Ben Lamb called the departures “disconcerting.”
“I have found it exhausting, but not toxic,” he said. “It’s been an extremely challenging term, period. I think being an elected official during a pandemic is, by no means, an easy feat. Being an elected official is not an easy role to play. I can’t speak to individuals’ reasons.”
Keith Bona, who first was elected to the council in 1993, was surprised by the recent resignations toward the end of the term.
“To say what they said about the council wasn’t a surprise,” he said. “I think while I agree with some of what they said, I would disagree who they are pointing the fingers at.”
Bona said the departing members were the problem.
“Personally, I think, moving forward, I think you’re going to see the council be just fine,” he said.
In total, four people have left the nine-person council this term. In May, Paul Hopkins stepped down from the council when he moved, and last summer, Robert Moulton quit after coming under fire after making comments about Black Lives Matter and the coronavirus pandemic.
In an initial search of city records, City Clerk Cathleen King said she found three City Council resignations from 2008 to the current term. Exits usually are in situations like Hopkins’, Bona said. He called the two recent resignations “mysterious.”
“This term is definitely unique,” he said.
But, having fewer members could affect the council’s procedures.
“There are certain votes that need at least six members voting in the affirmative,” Blackmer said. “Some of the ordinances, certain kinds of borrowing, things like that.”
After LaForest’s resignation, the council voted to fill his seat after the upcoming November election with the nonincumbent candidate who gets the most votes, and Blackmer said the procedure for filing Harpin’s seat will be discussed at an upcoming meeting.
In November, Harpin still will be on the City Council ballot, as she returned papers to run for a seat and King said the deadline for withdrawing has passed.
“She could very well win a seat, depending on how the election goes,” King said. “It would be her choice at that time either to accept the new seat or, if she really doesn’t want it, she would have to resign at that point. The next-highest vote-getter would fill in.”