CLAY, W.Va. — After uproar over a local official’s Facebook post that compared first Lady Michelle Obama to an ape, Clay Town Council came to order, approved minutes from the last meeting, agreed to pay the town’s bills, accepted the mayor’s resignation, apologized and adjourned.
The entire process lasted less than 15 minutes but occurred in a crowded room with state and national journalists as well as concerned onlookers from other communities.
Council members found themselves in this position after Mayor Beverly Whaling chimed in on another local official’s Facebook post celebrating the victory of Donald Trump as president.
That post, by Clay County Development Corp. director Pamela Ramsey Taylor, read: “It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House. I’m tired of seeing a Ape in heels.”
Mayor Whaling responded with a comment: “Just made my day Pam.”
The post began to circulate over the weekend and then went viral — with coverage by national and international media outlets such as The Associated Press, The Washington Post and the BBC. An online petition asking for the resignation of Taylor and Whaling generated thousands of signatures. Their names in the form of hashtags were circulating on Twitter.
Taylor was removed from her job before the end of the day Monday.
Whaling submitted a one line resignation letter on Tuesday: “I, Beverly Whaling, will be resigning as the Mayor of the Town of Clay. Effective immediately.”
The council meeting had already been scheduled but because of the fuss it was faster than usual. Many of the usual agenda items — like “water plant project” and “rugs for town hall” — were skipped.
Town recorder Joe Coleman officially accepted the resignation.
Then, Councilman Jason Hubbard offered an apology on behalf of Council and the community.
“First and foremost, the council would like to condemn the horrible and indecent post that was the center of the controversy,” Hubbard said. “This kind of racism and intolerance is not what this community is about. This community is a hopeful and helpful, empathetic and god-loving community, and we are tolerant. Please don’t judge the community for one or two individual acts.”
Some people had crowded into the small council room to watch what council would do. Some of those people spoke after Whaling’s resignation was accepted and praised council members for the way they handled the situation.
“I really, really applaud your apology and your statement. It was very gracious, and I appreciate your community. I know it’s probably scary to have everyone come in here and bombard you like this. But I’m very proud to be here and to be a neighbor to this community,” commented one woman who said she had come two hours to the meeting.
Another woman in the audience also praised council.
“I’m very happy that you all have done the right thing. I think we’re all proud of where we’re from. We’re proud to be rural, small town America. And from another West Virginian to you all, I’m really proud that we’ve done the right thing because there’s no place for hate in West Virginia.
Councilwoman Joyce Gibson stayed around to discuss the town’s reaction.
“It’s sad that this whole thing happened,” Gibson said. “I was taught many years ago by my father and mother to don’t be in a hurry to say something. Don’t open your mouth that you might have to take back in an apology or you might be embarrassed by it or feel guilty about it for years.”
She added, “I’m sorry to lose our mayor, but I think she has done the best thing for the council and for the town.”
Gibson said people should feel welcome to visit Clay.
“Come and see us. Spend a day with us. I might even make you a cup of coffee. If I knew you were coming, I might bake you a cake. We’re very decent people. And, as Jason said, we’re god-loving people. I don’t know what the idea was behind all of this. Maybe none, you know. But it’s terrible.”
The situation in the community has been unprecedented, said Andy Waddell, who publishes the Clay Communicator newspaper and the Clayberry news website.
“The community feels it’s fallout from the election. We see it on TV with some pretty rotten attitudes and now it has hit us out in the middle of nowhere,” Waddell said.
“The root cause here is stupidity. One hundered percent dumber than a box of rocks. To put something in writing so nasty. They were just dumb. I think it was a spur of the moment thing, and it caught both of them.”