At-Large City Councilor Debora Coelho and Ward 3's Hugh Dunn should step aside. Both councilors have shown a total disregard for the trust placed in them by the voters and ought to seriously consider whether they are still worthy of that trust.

They are not.

Debora Coelho/Facebook

The primary and most important responsibility of a member of the New Bedford City Council is to approve an operating budget each fiscal year. That process involves a series of budget hearings, during which councilors are allowed to question department heads about their financial needs and requests for the coming fiscal year. 

Courtesy Hugh Dunn

Councilors must then decide if what is being sought by the department heads through the administration's budget request is reasonable or whether the budget for that department should be reduced. 

Councilor Coelho, who announced after being re-elected last year that she would not seek another term going forward, has missed eight consecutive meetings, including all six budget hearings and two sessions to propose and vote up or down on proposed budget reductions. 

Councilor Dunn has missed seven of the last eight meetings, including all six budget hearings. Dunn was involved in Monday night's final budget-cutting session. Some of the votes on proposals to reduce spending failed on a tie vote. Had Coelho participated in Monday night's session, the results might have been different. Both councilors missed a vote on whether the council should oppose the Mitchell Administration's plan to decommission Engine 8.

In responding to an email from New Bedford Guide's Mike Silvia about his missing the important budget hearings, Dunn replied, "My absence has no impact on my ability to effectively represent my constituents as we navigate the budget process." I disagree. Coelho ignored a request for comment.

All of the budget-related meetings were conducted on Zoom and did not require the councilors to attend in person. Councilors Coelho and Dunn could have participated from anywhere in the world. 

By refusing to participate in the budget process for the fiscal year 2021, Councilors Coehlo and Dunn were paid to skip the most important task they are asked to perform. Coelho and Dunn were not coerced to serve on the council. They asked for the privilege to serve. And they failed to show up. 

Councilors Coelho and Dunn should step aside to make room for those who truly wish to give the citizens of New Bedford their full attention.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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