Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy, a teacher at Albemarle High School, has agreed to take an administrative leave of absence while the school division investigates “vulgar” tweets he made before being elected to Charlottesville City Council, according to a statement today from the Albemarle School Board.
“Many of these postings contain extremely vulgar and offensive language that directly contradicts the values of our school division,” says Chair Kate Acuff. “The School Board rejects these statements in their entirety.”
Tweetstorm: Bellamy apologizes for ‘inappropriate’ posts
Anger about Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy’s call to remove Confederate statues exploded over the Thanksgiving weekend when a blogger posted racist, misogynistic and homophobic tweets Bellamy made before he was elected to City Council.
“I DON’T LIKE WHIT [sic] PEOPLE SO I HATE WHITE SNOW!!!!! FML!!!!” comes from a December 20, 2009, tweet.
The tweets also take aim at “beanpole body white women in these sundresses” in 2012 and use the C-word to accuse a woman of being untruthful in 2009.
Bellamy called his comments “disrespectful, and quite frankly, ignorant” in a November 27 Facebook post. “I sincerely apologize for the inappropriate things I posted to social media many years ago,” he writes. “Elected officials should be held to a higher standard, and while I was not in office at the time, in this instance I came up short of the man I aspire to be.”
By November 28, City Council had received 28 e-mails denouncing Bellamy and calling for his removal from office, three voicemails and one e-mail in support, according to council clerk Paige Rice.
City resident Alan Addington was one of the e-mail writers. “It just confirmed everything I knew—that he’s a racist and a bigot,” he says. Addington says Bellamy has a “racist agenda” in wanting to remove the Civil War statues of generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
“He’s not even a landowner,” Addington adds. And he is unswayed by Bellamy’s apology. “I think he should resign,” he says.
Actually, Bellamy bought a house in Charlottesville August 25, according to city property records.
Bellamy is a teacher at Albemarle High School, and the county also received calls for his ousting.
A statement from county schools spokesman Phil Giaramita notes that some of Bellamy’s tweets contain “vulgar language” that “is both offensive to and contradicts the values of the Albemarle County School division.”
Giaramita says the county is “working to understand the facts in this matter before making any decisions on what actions may be appropriate.”
Jason Kessler, who posted the Bellamy tweets on his website, is an author and personal trainer who graduated from Fluvanna High in Palmyra and UVA, according to his Facebook page. He’s come under fire from Bellamy supporters, who accuse him of being “alt-right,” a term used to describe far-right conservatives and white supremacists.
“LOL,” writes Kessler in an e-mail, when asked to comment on that assertion.
In a statement on his website, Kessler calls upon the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces to “drop all proposed changes or risk tacitly endorsing Bellamy’s racist agenda.”
Once upon a time, ill-advised postings on social media could be career ending. Now, with “post-truth” the 2016 word of the year and a president-elect who uses Twitter to lambast those who criticize him, social media expert Marijean Oldham suggests Bellamy should be able to move on, especially with his apology and his taking responsibility for the remarks.
“I don’t think just because we’re a more forgiving society that people have license to be rude on social media,” she says.
She describes the Trump effect: “We’re normalizing bad behavior.” She says it’s a good idea to follow elected leaders on social media “and get to know them in an unfiltered way, for better or worse.”
As for those who call for Bellamy’s removal from office, well, it’s not that easy. Just ask Earl Smith, who petitioned the court to remove convicted sex offender Chris Dumler from the Albemarle Board of Supervisors.
“Chris Dumler was accused of raping women, which is a hell of a lot worse than Bellamy spouting off on Twitter,” says Smith. In Virginia, an elected official can only be removed if it’s proven that he cannot do his job, which Dumler was able to do, “even when he was in jail,” says Smith. “I don’t see how anyone can prove Wes Bellamy is not doing his job. He goes above and beyond it.”
Bellamy has given no indication that he’s considering resigning, and in his statement, he says, “Contrary to what was written, I am not a black supremacist, a racist, a misogynist, nor am I any of the other things he purports me to be. What I am is a son, a husband, a father, a teacher, and a proud member of this community who works every day to improve the city we live in.”
And for those who might consider petitioning for his removal, Smith advises, “You’d be better off volunteering for the community than worrying about something that happened in 2009.”
Albemarle School Board statement
Updated December 2 with Bellamy’s home ownership in Charlottesville.