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With LaForest’s Resignation, North Adams Moves To Third City Council President This Year

A brutalist brick building sits under a blue sky.
Josh Landes
North Adams, Massachusetts City Hall.

The North Adams, Massachusetts city council is moving to its third president in just three months.

Jason LaForest, who replaced Paul Hopkins as council president in May, announced his resignation through a social media post Monday. He cited personal and professional obligations as well as “shameful dirty back-door politics” and “the absurd grand-standing and conspiracy theories of other councilors and candidates.” His departure marks the end of a controversial stint in office beginning with his election in 2017. This February, on the same day Mayor Tom Bernard announced he would not run for a third term, LaForest told WAMC he intended to pursue the corner office.

“It’s an open secret at this point, that I have been making many phone calls and reaching out to constituents in North Adams, and good friends and advisors and other communities about the possibility of running for mayor of North Adams this fall, and I have received a tremendous amount of support," he said. "So I anticipate having an announcement in the next couple of weeks.”

Soon after, misconduct allegations emerged from the community. North Adams resident Emily Bryant accused LaForest, a nurse, of violating her medical privacy and also hitting on her via social media.

“He was basically trying to warn people, saying that I have serious issues and alluding to him thinking, like, that I'm crazy," said Bryant. "And that really bothered me. Because obviously, everyone has their own struggles in life, nobody's perfect. And then on top of that, as soon after I found this out and I was kind of processing that, he goes and hits on me in Facebook Messenger.”

Her post about the situation on a North Adams Facebook group led to more outcry when LaForest made legal threats against both Bryant and the North Adams Chat page.

In response to Bryant’s allegations, LaForest issued a press release on stationery for his then unannounced and since dropped mayoral campaign, apologizing for calling her a “hottie” on Facebook Messenger.

An investigative report by WAMC in March illuminated concerns about LaForest voiced by fellow councilors Jessica Sweeney and Keith Bona, who suggested his failed bid to become council president in 2020 was tied to his personal conduct outside of council chambers.

Now, council vice president Lisa Hall Blackmer is expected to replace LaForest as president at Tuesday’s council meeting.

“We have an agenda," she told WAMC. "We've got a lot of work before us. We've got work the committees are doing and we go in and we show up in the meetings, we do our homework and we show up prepared, we act professionally, and do the best we can. I can't ask anything else of anybody than to do the best they can.”

The council has yet to determine if and when LaForest’s seat will be filled, with only a few weeks until the municipal election.

Last year, another city councilor, Robert Moulton, bowed out under intense community pressure after denigrating the Black Lives Matter movement and downplaying the COVID-19 pandemic on a public access television show.

LaForest did not respond to a request for comment.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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