As North Adams struggles to keep a permanent city clerk, former office holder says toxic behavior from two city councilors is to blame
A former North Adams, Massachusetts city clerk has broken his silence about an alleged toxic culture within municipal government that he says drove both him and his predecessor to resign and is now targeting the city’s third clerk of 2022.
School committee member and 2021 mayoral candidate Josh Vallieres became North Adams’ third city clerk within the first 8 months of 2022 in July.
Marcus Lyon, the second clerk of the year, held the role from February until his June resignation.
“I'm somebody who kind of has sat back from the beginning," he told WAMC. "And this stems back from when Cathleen King was in the office, and really being an outsider looking in at what she went through, what I went through, but not nearly as intense as Cathleen, but now I'm beginning to see it starting with Josh Vallieres, who was my hire as my assistant city clerk, somebody who I felt very confident in and continue to feel very confident in in his ability to continue the forward momentum of that office and continue to bring it up to 2022.”
Former North Adams public school teacher King served as city clerk from April 2021 until her resignation in January of this year.
A late July social media post from Isaiah Moore – Vallieres’ former campaign manager – prompted Lyon to break his silence about the situation.
“When Josh was running for mayor, we set him up with social media, an ActBlue account so that he could receive donations and use that money to help buy whatever his campaign needed," Moore explained. "But when he decided to run for school committee instead, we went ahead and closed down all of his mayoral stuff. But unknowing to me, we missed his ActBlue account. And so that had just been left open, and I was not aware of this.”
It was brought to Moore’s attention not long after the city council voted to appoint a new permanent city clerk on July 26th - a meeting where councilors Jennifer Barbeau and Marie Harpin made up a vocal minority in opposition to Vallieres.
“After Josh got sworn in as the new city clerk, I got an email saying that there was a donation for $1 to Josh Vallieres’ mayoral campaign," continued Moore. "As soon as I got that email, I went ahead and refunded the dollar, emailed the person that donated the dollar letting them know and thanking them for wanting to show their support, but that Josh is not running a campaign, so he's not going to accept any money. And then I closed the ActBlue account. And it was weird that the person that donated the money was a relative to one of the councilors have voted no on Josh Vallieres.”
The donation was from Katie Barbeau, Councilor Barbeau’s daughter. Moore says he immediately contacted the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance to explain the situation and that Vallieres was not fundraising for a shuttered campaign.
“I don't know exactly what the law is on that point," Moore told WAMC. "But from my personal standpoint, it would be something that would be unethical, and I would advise anyone that asked me about it, or wanted to do it to not do that.”
Neither Barbeau responded to requests for comment from WAMC.
“I can't speak exactly as to why there was that donation of $1," said Moore. "I do know that in working on campaigns, any donation is appreciated, and that no matter what dollar amount it is, the campaigns are very thankful for it. But I don't think I've ever had someone donate $1, a single dollar to a campaign before. And then also, the important fact that Josh was not actively campaigning or collecting campaign donations since he had dropped out of the mayoral race. So I just, I don't know, what was, why the decision was to make that campaign donation. But I do think it was a weird, an odd decision to make.”
After Moore posted about the incident, Lyon spoke out for the first time since his resignation from city hall. In a social media post, he described the move as disgusting and shameful, and said that Barbeau was trying to stir up controversy around yet another city clerk.
“To see something so petty and elementary and just downright disrespectful, to do that to somebody who is a college fresh college graduate attempting to really be a positive impact to the community and take over that office, when there's many people that don't because of the current state of the city council and city hall as a whole, to see somebody tried to tear somebody apart in such a petty way- I just, I had to speak up about it, because it's just downright wrong,” Lyon told WAMC.
Echoing similar statements from city leaders like Council Vice President Peter Oleskiewicz, Lyon confirmed that Barbeau and Harpin were the source of both his and King’s decision to leave city hall.
“There were many times where Cathleen was just attempting to do her job as city clerk, remain compliant with the law, and in her attempts to do so received plenty of backlash from certain city councilors," said Lyon. "The same thing happened with me. And, you know, there were questions about my interview process and how I was even selected to become the city clerk, just very inappropriate comments that are made that should not be made to somebody in that role.”
Harpin did not respond to WAMC’s requests for comment on this story.
Lyon says that his own journey to becoming city clerk featured its own interactions with the Barbeaus.
“Councilor Barbeau’s daughter also made a comment when I was in the process of becoming appointed. And when the city council president gave an update, city hall had closed on the final day of applications. And, you know, [Barbeau] attempted to kind of stir the pot, for lack of a better term, and saying that there should be x y and z done because city hall was closed, and, you know, it’s just kind of nonsense," said Lyon. "The internet doesn't shut down for a snow day. And that was just kind of like, is there a purpose behind what you're trying to do? I don't even understand what is going on here, you know what I mean? So I'm seeing it start, and I think it's time to get a little bit more vocal about what's going on, because nothing is going to continue to progress in a positive way and move that city forward if this is the kind of thing that's going on in that council. Period, end of story.”