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UPDATED: Wolfeboro police commissioner resigns over use of N-word to refer to Obama; townspeople react

By Larissa Mulkern
Special to the Union Leader

May 19. 2014 5:29PM


WOLFEBORO -- The police commissioner who came under fire after slinging a racial slur about President Obama, who then refused to apologize after an enraged community demanded his removal, has resigned.

In a statement released Monday, Wolfeboro Police Commission Chair Joe Balboni, Jr., confirmed that Commissioner Bob Copeland tendered his resignation in a brief email he received at 10:34 p.m. Sunday night. The e-mail stated, "Dear Commission Chairman Balboni, I resign. Bob Copeland."

Copeland, 82, was elected to his second three-year term in March. Praised by some for his leadership and public spirit, Copeland came under fire after resident Jane O'Toole overheard him calling President Obama a racial slur while dining at a local restaurant in March. O'Toole ultimately complained to town officials and the police commission.

Last week, more than 100 people turned out, many of whom called for Copeland's resignation. Copeland is a retired corporate attorney who also served as an officer with the U.S. Navy.

Shortly after hearing of Copeland's resignation, O'Toole said she looked forward to moving on with her life, and that one thing the community has learned is that one person can make a difference.

"Halleluja," O'Toole said Monday. "I'm happy he's done this, not only for the town but for him. He has now hopefully stopped the enormous international train [of attention] that's affecting the town. We can get back to business in this beautiful resort community and we can stop talking about this," she said, adding, "and, hopefully, we've taught our children a lesson that you can stand up and make a difference."

Coverage of the incident has garnered international attention. On Friday, Police Chief Stuart Chase said both the dispatch center and town hall had been deluged by angry callers, some of whom mistakenly thought that the police commissioner was a sworn officer. He said calls came from as far away as Alaska and Canada.

O'Toole said she never anticipated the story would go viral and gain as much attention as it has.

"I wrote this little letter to the town and the town started a groundswell of support," she said.

In a statement Friday, Town Manager David Owen and the Board of Selectmen called for Copeland's resignation. Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who owns a vacation home in Wolfeboro, also called for Copeland to resign.

Commissioner Balboni said Copeland's decision was in the best interest of the town, the commission and the police department.

"We have a lot of hearing to do in this town," he said.

Commissioners Balboni and Ron Goodgame will fill the vacancy with an appointee. Applicants for police commission must be registered voters who have lived in Wolfeboro for the past five years.

Goodgame said potential candidates will be interviewed in coming weeks.

"What the town will take away from this is that politicians better watch what they say," said Goodgame. He said Copeland has been a "terrific friend" over the years and said he hoped in time the friendship would heal. Both Commissioners Goodgame and Balboni denounced Copeland's comment.

"We're trying to move forward," Goodgame said.

The Rev. Edward Rice, serving as Interim Rector at All Saints' Episcopal Church, spoke during last week's public hearing regarding Copeland's comments. On Monday he said he was pleased that Copeland stepped down.

"I'm glad he responded to the calls from community. It was the right thing for him to do. But for us as a community, it's an opportunity to continue discussions about racism, about the way we relate to each other and how we can come together as a community for the greater good," Rev. Rice said. "I think Jane O'Toole was a role model with how she confronted an issue and then addressed it appropriately at each level, responsibly, keeping focus on what the issue at hand," he said.

"I was very proud of being part of Wolfeboro and of how the community responded," he added.

Whitney White, an African American who attended and now works at Brewster Academy, said while she's happy Copeland resigned, she noted how he had not apologized.

Town Manager David Owen was also pleased to hear of the resignation, but said Copeland could have saved the town from angst had he resigned sooner.

"It's too bad it took so long for (the resignation) to happen. He put a lot of people through a lot of angst," he said.

Owen said town officials reacted quickly to the controversy created by Copeland's comments after

"The whole thing could have been averted by Mr. Copeland if he apologized. He could have said, 'Gee, I was drinking and I shouldn't have made that remark,' and that would have been the end of it," Owen said.

As of late Monday afternoon, Copeland had not responded to a request for comment.

An earlier report follows:

Wolfeboro Police Commissioner Bob Copeland, under fire for slinging a racial slur at President Obama, has resigned, according to Commission Chair Joe Balboni, Jr.

Balboni confirmed that Copeland submitted his resignation on Monday afternoon. Balboni was en route to discuss the development with Wolfeboro Police Chief Stuart Chase.

Copeland, 82, came under fire after a resident overheard him call President Obama a "f****** [N-word]" at a restaurant in March, then brought the incident to the attention of town and police officials.

Last week, more than 100 people turned out at a public hearing, many of whom called for Copeland to resign. Public officials including the town manager and board of selectmen also called for Copeland to step down.

With no recall provision for elected officials in New Hampshire, resignation was the only option to replace a commissioner. Copeland was elected to his second three-year term in March.

More to follow as updates come available.

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