John Oliveira Effectively Censured by Mayor Mitchell, School Committee
NEW BEDFORD — New Bedford School Committee member John Oliveira has effectively been censured by Mayor Jon Mitchell, the Chairman Ex-Officio of the School Committee, after a long history of outbursts and vulgar language at committee meetings.
In a letter dated February 18, 2020, signed by Mitchell and sent by certified mail, Oliveira was informed that he was being removed from all current subcommittee assignments and would no longer be recognized during committee deliberations and hearings “until further notice.” He will continue to take part in all full committee votes.
“I write in my capacity as Chairman of the New Bedford School Committee concerning your conduct at school committee meetings,” Mitchell wrote to begin the letter. “On multiple occasions over the last year, you have engaged in profanity-laced outbursts during public committee meetings that were often directed at members of the Committee or the school administration, and sometimes punctuated by your storming out of the meeting before it was over.”
Mitchell pointed out that many of the tirades had taken place in the presence of schoolchildren.
“It should go without saying that committee members have a duty to the district’s students to be models of civility in the discharge of our public duty,” Mitchell wrote. “The New Bedford School Committee should stand for nothing less.”
Mitchell mentioned in that letter that Oliveira himself had acknowledged his behavior as inappropriate, noting that Oliveira had sent an email to the committee on March 12, 2019, apologizing for his behavior and saying he had “taken steps to prevent any such outburst in the future.” Mitchell stated that as a result of what Oliveira wrote in the email “the Committee refrained from taking action to address your conduct” but that “the last several school committee meetings have revealed, however, that you have no intention of living up to your commitment.”
The most notable incident, Mitchell wrote, came at the July 15, 2019 meeting, in which Oliveira “swore angrily and repeatedly in public session, and made an obscene gesture to another committee member.”
On that date, Oliveira opposed a measure to name a school ballfield after a former student that had died of cancer. While Oliveira was in favor of naming the ballfield after the child, he opposed the measure because he disagreed with how Senator Mark Montigny pushed it through to a vote. A heated exchange between Oliveira and fellow committee member Christopher Cotter led to Oliveira extending his middle finger toward Cotter.
Mitchell pointed out that following that meeting, Oliveira told the Standard-Times “I’m not making excuses; those outbursts are meant for a reason.”
The letter states that the most recent offenses came at a February school committee workshop in which Oliveira “used the f-word in reference to a school department employee” and that at the February 10, 2020 meeting, Oliveira “swore again in the Committee’s public session meeting.”
At that meeting, which can be seen in this New Bedford Cable Access video at about the 1:50:25 mark, Oliveira was questioning Superintendent Thomas Anderson regarding the budget and alluding to Mayor Mitchell pushing the school committee the previous year into thinking there would be layoffs and school closures forthcoming if the budget wasn’t approved.
“I’m sure you don’t have an answer for this, Mr. Anderson, but I’m sure the mayor will,” Oliveira said. “But yeah, thanks for the bulls--- last year, Mr. Mayor.”
“Really?” Mitchell replied. “Swearing again? No idea what you’re talking about, but swearing again. Thanks, Mr. Oliveira.”
That then led to an off-mic exchange between Cotter and Oliveira. Mitchell sent the letter eight days later.
In the letter, Mitchell states “the Committee has demonstrated ample, if not excessive, patience with your behavior, giving you multiple opportunities to follow through on your commitment to observe basic decorum. We have reached a point where it is clear you won’t,” which led to the decision by Mitchell to essentially censure Oliveira.
Oliveira has had multiple issues with the mayor, other committee members and school department employees since being elected to the school committee in 2017. He ran for the position on a platform that included wanting to fire then-Superintendent Dr. Pia Durkin.
About a week after being elected in November 2017, Oliveira went to a scheduled meeting with Dr. Durkin and was upset to find Deputy School Chief Jason DeFalco also present at the meeting. He asked DeFalco to leave, and when DeFalco refused, Oliveira became argumentative and DeFalco called the police, but Oliveira said he left on his own before police arrived.
The next day, Oliveira went back to confront Durkin again and was removed from school grounds by police.
That led to the school department being granted a “No Trespass” order against Oliveira for all New Bedford Schools properties, with the exception of being allowed to attend school committee meetings at Keith Middle School following his inauguration onto the committee (he did, however, attend a meeting before his swearing-in at the invitation of Mayor Mitchell). However, even after Oliveira’s inauguration, the school committee voted to continue the “No Trespass” order as Mitchell said Oliveira’s behavior had not improved.
Meanwhile, the same day Oliveira was removed from school grounds in November of 2017, Durkin submitted a letter of resignation to the mayor and the school committee.
In the ensuing months, as the search began for a new superintendent, Oliveira accused Mitchell of “hijacking” the search.
Both Oliveira and Mitchell continued to be at odds, with Oliveira publicly calling for Mitchell’s resignation and even pulling papers for a possible mayoral run to potentially oppose Mitchell in 2019.
Mitchell later said following the July 15, 2019 outburst and obscene gesture that while there was "no specific city law when it comes to the possibility of removing Oliveira from the committee" that the school committee members were "seeking a review in hopes of uncovering any sort of mechanism to expel him."
Read the entire letter to John Oliveira.