Chelsea Council Addresses Complaints Against Its Members
By Doug Marrin, STN Reporter
At its July 6, 2021 meeting, the Chelsea City Council addressed complaints filed against council members Pacheco and Iannelli. On the meeting’s agenda were two recommendations, one for each complaint, to set an informal hearing to look further into the matter.
The complaint, submitted by Michele Balaka, against Pacheco alleges a conflict of interest with the council member’s involvement with the local group, One World One Family (OWOF). In an email to the City, Balaka describes how she believes OWOF’s criticism of signs around town supporting Chelsea Fire and Police Departments should be considered hate speech.
“Clearly, no city council members should be part of a Board that published hate toward our local businesses,” states Balaka in her complaint. Details of Ms. Balaka’s complaint against Councilmember Pacheco can be found in the council meeting packet.
Similarly, Ms. Balaka filed a separate complaint against Councilmember Iannelli regarding his membership in a Facebook group “that targeted local businesses,” alleging it is a conflict of interest for a council member. Details of Ms. Balaka’s complaint against Councilmember Iannelli can also be found in the council meeting packet.
The Council agenda contained two recommendations, one for each complaint, from City Manager Hanifan to set a date for an informal hearing to discuss the complaints and decide future action if necessary.
Many community members attended the meeting to speak on the two agenda items. Of the people who spoke during public participation, six strongly expressed their support for Pacheco and Iannelli and the council members’ involvement in community concerns. Three people challenged the veracity of the complaints. Contrarily, two speakers alluded to public outcry over the complaints in expressing their belief that the prevailing sentiment in Chelsea is to aggressively silence conservative views.
The person at the center of the controversy also spoke. Ms. Balaka introduced herself as the one who filed the complaints against Pacheco and Iannelli. She told the Council the signs posted around town thanking the police and fire departments resulted from a fundraiser and agreed that displaying the signs “was poor timing” considering the community’s concerns over the police handling of the BLM protest. Balaka reiterated her criticism of the OWOF letter condemning the signs that thanked the police and fire departments. She also told of individuals going around to businesses asking them to take down the signs, characterizing the action as harassment.
When it came time on the agenda to address the complaint against Pacheco, City Manager Hanifan explained to the room, “As we stated before, we do take your complaints seriously, of any nature. Regardless of whether we think they are valid or not. We need to make sure that they’re reviewed and discussed by Council, in particular when they are Council members.”
“The action we’re asking for tonight is to set an informal hearing to discuss the complaint and determine if next steps are necessary,” he added.
Mayor Johnson echoed Hanifan’s statement that the City takes complaints seriously and added, “My preference is always to hear the complaint, hear the evidence, and make a decision. There’s either supporting evidence, or there’s not. That’s the most transparent way to handle anything—to see if there is evidence or not.”
Councilmember Albertson outlined the polarizing conundrum the Council faced, noting an abandonment of any hearing would satisfy some but not all in the community. “So how are we to decide this? she rhetorically asked the room.
Albertson’s idea was to go ahead with a hearing. “Have some faith in your elected officials that we can hear truth also,” she explained.
“So, I would ask very genuinely, very respectfully to please just quiet this down a little bit and give us a chance to do this in an intelligent and measured way without factioning,” urged Albertson. “Because we are now a divided community.”
Albertson made the motion to have the informal hearing to review the complaint against Pacheco on July 19, “So that we can finally put this to rest,” she explained.
No one seconded the motion. Without support, the motion failed.
Next on the agenda was a recommendation for a motion to set an informal hearing on July 19 to review the complaint against Ianelli. Mr. Hanifan introduced it as “virtually identical to the last agenda item.”
“I don’t think there is much there,” said Councilmember Feeney of the complaint.
However, Feeney did go on and deliver a sobering message, expressing his alarm over the expanding rift he sees in the Chelsea community.
“I think this is really serious stuff, and the implications for this town are huge,” he told the room. “We are all justified in our own eyes. The kind of partisanship that we see and feel, we see it in other people. We don’t see it in ourselves.”
“It’s there. We’re ugly. This is a town I don’t recognize,” he said bluntly.
Feeney continued. “I see ‘Love Your Neighbor’ signs, and I think that is so profound. I just hope that we mean them—that we mean them not just for the people at our table, not the people on our back porch, not the people that we play Euchre with, and not the people we go to church with. I hope we mean it for the people we don’t agree with, we don’t like.”
“How do you love the people you don’t like?” he added. “We’ve come to this, and it’s disturbing to me. We got ourselves into this battle, and only we are going to get ourselves out of it. It’s going to take a lot of humility.”
“While we’re pointing the finger, stand at the mirror and point the finger,” he concluded, urging the listening audience to think, “The next person that’s going to unwind this is me.”
“Thank you, Mr. Feeney,” said Mayor Johnson. “I don’t think any of us can say it better.”
Mayor Johnson then asked the Council if it would like to make a motion to set an informal hearing for July 19 to review the complaint against Iannelli. No motion was offered. The recommendation died.
Video for the July 6, 2021, Council meeting is available on the City of Chelsea website, as well as the council meeting packet containing further details.