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Wolfeboro police Commissioner Robert Copeland resigns over racist remarks

  • File--Police commissioner Robert Copeland , shown here at last week's meeting, resigned Monday, May 19, 2104<br/><br/>GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

    File--Police commissioner Robert Copeland , shown here at last week's meeting, resigned Monday, May 19, 2104

    GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

  • File--Police commissioner Robert Copeland , shown here at last week's meeting, resigned Monday, May 19, 2104<br/><br/>GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

    File--Police commissioner Robert Copeland , shown here at last week's meeting, resigned Monday, May 19, 2104

    GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

  • File--Police commissioner Robert Copeland , shown here at last week's meeting, resigned Monday, May 19, 2104<br/><br/>GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff
  • File--Police commissioner Robert Copeland , shown here at last week's meeting, resigned Monday, May 19, 2104<br/><br/>GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

Two words started Bob Copeland’s trouble in Wolfeboro. Two words ended it.

Copeland, a police commissioner in the lakeside resort town, was the eye of a media superstorm late last week, after residents protested his use and defense of a racial slur in reference to President Obama.

Yesterday, he ceded his post, writing an email to commission Chairman Joseph Balboni Jr. that stated simply, “I resign.”

Balboni said he spoke with Copeland on Sunday night and urged him to step down.

“He was very nice, very polite. I said, ‘Bob, you’ve gotta step down, everybody says you have to resign,’ ” Balboni said. He kept saying, ‘I’ll think about it,’ and I said, ‘Bob, we gotta be serious now.’ ”

The town of Wolfeboro does not have any provision for removing elected officials other than their voluntary resignation, said Town Manager David Owen. Copeland was one of three members of the police commission, which hires, fires and disciplines officers, and sets their salaries.

“I wish he would have resigned a lot earlier, and it would have caused a lot less anxiety around the community and everywhere else,” Owen said.

The story went viral online and was picked up by national news outlets after more than 100 people attended a meeting Thursday night to call on Copeland to resign.

They were upset with remarks he made in a restaurant in March, shortly before he was elected to his second three-year term on the commission.

He called the president “that f------ n-----,” and was overheard by a resident who complained to the town manager and later the rest of the commission.

In his response to the complaint, which was later printed in the local weekly paper, Copeland wrote, “I believe I did use the ‘N’ word in reference to the current occupant of the Whitehouse (sic). For this I do not apologize – he meets and exceeds my criteria for such.”

Owen and Balboni both said they’ve received more than 100 emails or phone calls from people upset about Copeland’s remarks. People told Owen they planned to cancel vacation visits to the town and would boycott Wolfeboro businesses.

Political figures from Wolfeboro state Sen. Jeb Bradley to U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who owns a home in town, also condemned the remarks and called for his resignation.

Reporters blanketed Twitter when Owen announced Copeland’s resignation yesterday afternoon. It was the centerpiece of CNN.com; the Washington Post sent a staffer from Washington, D.C., to Wolfeboro and emailed readers a news alert to announce the resignation.

But not all of Wolfeboro operates on the 24-hour news cycle. Copeland’s fellow commissioner, Ron Goodgame did not know about the official announcement until hours later. He called the Monitor to relay the news, not knowing it had been tweeted and blogged and retweeted across the world in minutes.

He said he believed the story spread so far so quickly because Copeland did not apologize for his remarks, and because people everywhere are hostile to government officials.

“If he weren’t a public official, I don’t think this would have gone anywhere. People are angry with government, so they get angry with people who are in government. But he didn’t say, ‘Excuse me.’ He decided he could stand on the First Amendment, and something like this is indefensible. The more he would try to stand on that principle, the more it grew,” Goodgame said.

With Copeland’s resignation tendered, town officials said they hope to start the summer tourist season without controversy.

“We’ll be very happy to put this in our rearview mirror, and hopefully our business community can withstand the impact,” Owen said.

“Within a couple of weeks, I think the hate element will dissipate and go away, and I think there will be a healing. I think it’s going to happen on its own,” Goodgame said. “I think enough people will have read the media to know that this is not our view here in Wolfeboro, but by the same token I am saddened for Bob Copeland. For over 20 years he’s been my friend. . . . He has done a lot of good here. This was just a terrible error of judgment for saying what he said and trying to defend the indefensible.”

Owen said he will begin researching town ordinances for the process of filling Copeland’s seat on the commission. It may remain vacant until the next town election, he said.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

Legacy Comments1

Too bad the criteria for the police commissioner's post has the requirement of 5 years being a town resident. Newcomers are effectively prevented from holding the post. Maybe this needs to change as new blood is apparently necessary considering what just happened to Wolfeboro. ---SWL

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