Resignation Ends a Holyoke Drama, Leaving Coveted Council Vacancy…
UPDATED 4/6/16 7:29PM: To reflect a correction. H.U.S.H. published Chateauneuf’s Facebook announcement before The Republican, although the paper did report the Clerk’s receipt of the resignation first and for a clarification of the sources named in the final paragraph.
Following an episodic stretch of controversy and public feuding, Holyoke at-large city councilor Jennifer Chateauneuf has resigned her Council seat effective today. Announced on Facebook, her departure caps months of drama that played out in court and in the press during which she salaciously claimed to be harassed online and photographed nude in her bathroom.
Chateauneuf’s resignation could also prompt a shift in the Holyoke City Council. Eight members are elected at-large. Seven are elected from as many wards. The City Charter empowers the Council to fill vacancies, although it can choose whomever can secure eight votes. The recentness of November’s elections could pressure the Council to consider last year’s candidates, like Mimi Panitch, who placed ninth in last year’s at-large race.
In an email, Holyoke City Clerk Brenna McGee confirmed receipt Chateauneuf’s resignation. In her letter, obtained from McGee’s office, Chateauneuf thanked supporters, constituents and her colleagues.
“To my friends on the City Council, thank you for making me feel part of the team over the last two years,” Chateauneuf wrote. “It has truly been an honor to serve this city, but I need to do what is best for myself and my family at this time.”
The semi-satirical blog, H.U.S.H., with whose publisher Chateauneuf had clashed, first published her Facebook announcement. The Republican first reported her resignation letter.
— Michael R. Plaisance (@MikeRPlaisance) April 5, 2016
In her Facebook announcement, Chateauneuf seemed by turns defeated and defiant, “I know people want me to hold my head high, keep my chin up,” Chateauneuf wrote. “I just don’t have it in me to go another round of he said/she said.”
But she closed by writing, “I end with this: All you haters, there is an empty council seat, run for it. Show us what you can do better. Show us all how wonderful you are!”
Reaction has been muted thus far with few top Holyoke pols commenting on the resignation. Panitch, in a statement, thanked Chateauneuf for her service.
“Her dedication to the city of Holyoke, and her willingness to take on the pressures and demands of a City Council position in addition to her responsibilities as the owner of a business that’s a longtime Holyoke institution, have earned her our respect and gratitude,” Panitch’s statement read.
Mayor Alex Morse, in a statement, expressed similar sentiments. “I wish Jennifer the best, both for her family and her business. I also thank her for her service to the city of Holyoke.”
A co-owner of a Holyoke independent fast food joint first elected in 2013, Chateauneuf had tangled with critics following comments she made comments regarding an anti-panhandling ordinance. James Bickford, who uses the nom de plume Pronoblem Baalberith and publishes H.U.S.H., had posted several, mischievous, but benign hot dog memes on her business’s Facebook. Chateauneuf claimed these were sexually suggestive harassment and called police to investigate.
— pronoblem (@pronoblem) April 5, 2016
Chateauneuf haled Bickford into court over the pictures and later accused him of taking photos of her in the bathroom using an unmanned aerial vehicle. The courts disagreed and turfed the complaints.
However, because Chateauneuf had urged Holyoke police to file preliminary charges against Bickford, she may have also exposed the city to liability for civil rights violations.
“She claims to be done with he said/she said but yet she still continues in that mode in this public resignation,” Bickford said in a statement to WMassP&I. “She really should apologize to the person that she attempted to frame and to the City of Holyoke for her absolute embarrassment of our wonderful city.”
The last straw, Chateauneuf suggested on Facebook, was yesterday’s Republican story. That article detailed the entire imbroglio including court proceedings, police investigations and Chateauneuf’s call for Morse to dismiss Bickford from municipal boards—on which he no longer serves.
The article came about after Chateauneuf took umbrage when Morse joked, during a Chamber of Commerce event wherein pols often roast each other, about uttering negative things about politicians on social media He started the joke with a reference to Chateauneuf.
On the most serious claim—that she was photographed in the loo—the article cites a Holyoke Police report that contradicted Chateauneuf’s claims. Investigators found the bathroom in the photos looked quite different form the one in the Chateauneuf home and suggested the photographs came from an amateur porn site. Chateauneuf never presented actual evidence Bickford was involved, but the report’s findings exonerate him nonetheless.
Attention now turns to who will succeed Chateauneauf. One it receives Chateauneuf’s resignation, the Council can begin the replacement process. Nothing is likely at tonight’s meeting because action would likely violate the Open Meeting Law.
The Council last filled a seat in 2009 after John Whelihan died midterm. The late councilor’s son was chosen to finish the term.
Nevertheless, the city’s various factions are already maneuvering. Although Panitch had the most votes among unsuccessful at-large candidates, the Council’s more conservative bloc might balk at seating the outspoken Chair of the Planning Board.
In her release, Panitch struck a gracious note even as she turned attention to filling the open seat.
“In an ideal world, we would take some time to appreciate Jennifer’s service to the community before turning to questions about how to fill the vacancy her resignation leaves on the City Council,” Panitch wrote. “But civic affairs don’t pause,” she continued, noting that many had asked her if she would be willing to take Chateauneuf’s seat if selected by the Council.
“I would be grateful for the City Council’s consideration,” she concluded.
Holyoke sources have not publicly circulated other names yet. Some have called for a Latino replacement. Although nearly 50% of the city’s residents are Hispanic according to the 2010 census, none of Holyoke’s at-large councilors are. Three of the city’s seven ward councilors are Latino, however.
Darlene Elias, who also ran for council last year, is Latina. However, her relationship with some Holyoke Latinos, sources within that community say, is poor, which could complicate the viability of her candidacy before the Council.