BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP — More than 100 people filled Township Hall to watch the divided committee re-vote on its mayoral appointment after residents complained about not being able to speak publicly at the January reorganization meeting.
The end result was the same — only this time punctuated by yelling, scolding and accusations — with Peter Bylone being chosen as mayor, and former mayor Chuck Chiarello being ousted from a position he’d held for 16 years.
And, after listening to angry residents support or scold the township’s elected officials for more than an hour Monday night, the committee members had some words for each other as well.
“Chuck, you are a coward,” Bylone said to Chiarello at the end of the meeting, causing the capacity crowd to erupt in shouting.
Township Solicitor Mark Stein took fault for the January meeting, saying he had made a mistake regarding what the Open Public Meetings Act required and allowed the committee to vote 3-2, to prohibit public comment.
A resolution on Monday’s agenda reaffirmed Bylone’s appointment as well as all the other action taken that night. Public comment was allowed before and after the resolution.
The committee approved that resolution — 3-2, along the same division of the all-Democrat committee that appointed Bylone against Chiarello’s will after he served 16 years in the position.
The political mood has been tense in the typically quiet township in the wake of that decision, and while Monday’s meeting resolved a possible legal issue, it may have only added to the tension.
The audience seemed evenly split between people who supported Bylone and committee members Richard Harlan and Sue Barber, or Chiarello and Committeewoman Theresa Kelly.
The two sides of the room cheered or jeered the speakers depending on who they supported. At times, people in the crowd openly mocked the speakers, who then turned to address the audience instead of the committee.
“A mature adult would have graciously accepted defeat,” said resident Bettie Reina, who said Chiarello is damaging his legacy by pursuing the issue.
Resident Stephen Beamer said Chiarello was a valuable leader because of his connections at higher levels of government, and along with Kelly he helped the township get recognition elsewhere.
“Through them, our little tiny community has influence,” he said.
Toward the end of the public comment session, several people said they wished the township could get past the current animosity. After the committee reaffirmed the mayoral vote and carried on its other business, it seemed the officials would move on.
“I want to keep working for the township,” Chiarello said in the portion of the meeting for committee member comments. “I intend to move forward on a positive vein.”
But Bylone, who made his comments last after being mostly quiet, read a long statement, saying Chiarello similarly forced his way into the mayor’s seat 16 years ago, and that he would “do anything and everything” to remain mayor.
“In essence, he felt he should be mayor for life,” he said.
When Bylone called Chiarello a coward, the crowd seemed stunned. Chiarello’s wife, Cheryl, screamed at Bylone and left the room. Bylone was inaudible over the yelling from the crowd.
“You are a pathetic person,” Bylone also said.
Chiarello responded saying that Bylone was lying about several issues he raised in his statements, and the committee members argued about the events that led up to the issue.
Afterward, the meeting was opened for another public comment portion, and the crowd again had their say. The meeting continued late into the night.
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