The nonprofit director whose controversial “ape in heels” comment about first lady Michelle Obama propelled a small West Virginia town into an embarrassing national spotlight has been fired from her job.
The decision to fire Pamela Taylor, who was director of the Clay County Development Corp., comes as officials work to keep closer watch on the nonprofit, which uses government funds to provide services to elderly and low-income residents, by placing it under a state agency.
The move was prompted by Taylor’s November Facebook post, in which she celebrated incoming first lady Melania Trump, while calling Obama an “ape in heels.” Robert Roswall, commissioner for the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services, told The Washington Post that the controversy exposed loopholes in how the nonprofit was being run.
The Clay County Development Corp., for instance, is required by contract with the state to have open meetings, to respond to public records requests and to have nondiscrimination policies. The fact that those rules weren’t being followed became apparent after the public outrage over Taylor’s comments.
“We started getting lots of reports about different things that we were checking,” Roswall said. “There was little things popping up all over.”
State officials said they had two options: They could either withdraw government funding or take over the agency. Roswall said they chose the latter.
According to a statement released Tuesday by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office, the Appalachian Area Agency on Aging will manage and oversee the Clay County Development Corp. on a daily basis for six months. In that period, the nonprofit will have the opportunity to make necessary changes to make sure it’s following conditions set out by its contract with the state. It also must hire a new director.
Under an agreement between the two entities, the Appalachian Area Agency on Aging will have the authority to decide on day-to-day activities and personnel matters. It also will review and make recommendations to the nonprofit’s bylaws.
The agreement was approved Friday, the same day that Taylor was supposed to return to work. She was suspended last month following the uproar over her comments.
After Donald Trump’s election as president, Taylor took to social media to comment on the upcoming shift from Obama to Melania Trump, writing: “It will be so refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady back in the White House.”
She added: “I’m tired of seeing a Ape in heels.”
Images of the post immediately went viral. Clay Mayor Beverly Whaling, who commented approvingly on Taylor’s post, resigned.
Several weeks later, a letter by the nonprofit’s acting executive director stated that Taylor would return to her old role, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.
In response to Taylor’s reinstatement, Roswall and Cynthia Beane, acting commissioner for the state’s Bureau of Medical Services, wrote a letter to the nonprofit’s board requesting copies of its anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, as well as an explanation on how its employees have been trained. They also requested that the nonprofit assure them that discrimination or harassment will not be viewed as acceptable practices.
“Following the state’s request for specific assurances that the CDC is following anti-discrimination policies, we have been assured that Pamela Taylor has been removed from her position as CCDC director,” according to the statement from the governor’s office.
Roswall said the Clay County Development Corp., which ranked second among the county’s top employers, will remain an independent nonprofit.
“This is the best solution,” said Roswall, who has warned the nonprofit that discriminatory practices will jeopardize government funding. “If we had pulled out money, that meant people would’ve lost their jobs.”
After Taylor’s comments went viral, an online petition calling for her and Whaling to be fired began filling with digital signatures, ultimately logging more than 200,000 of them.
Earlier, Taylor told NBC affiliate WSAZ earlier that she understood why her Facebook post may have been interpreted as racist, but that it was not her intention.
She said she was referring to her own opinion about Obama’s attractiveness, not the color of her skin, according to the news station.
Taylor reportedly told WSAZ that the heated public response to her Facebook post had become a “hate crime against me,” saying that she and her children had received death threats. She said she was planning to file a lawsuit against people who had slandered or libeled her amid the uproar, according to the news station.
In a previous statement to The Post, Whaling, the now-former mayor, said her comment “was not intended to be racist at all.”
“I was referring to my day being made for change in the White House! I am truly sorry for any hard feeling this may have caused! Those who know me know that I’m not of any way racist! Again, I would like to apologize for this getting out of hand.”
The town of Clay has about 470 residents, according to a 2015 census estimate. The estimated population of Clay County is 8,910. Two-tenths of 1 percent of Clay County’s residents are African American, according to census data. More than three-quarters of the presidential votes cast in the county went to Donald Trump.
Lindsey Bever contributed to this story.