New Bedford City Council Votes Against Coronavirus Agenda Item
NEW BEDFORD — The City Council on Monday night narrowly voted down Ward 3 Councilor Hugh Dunn’s attempt to add a late-file agenda item that would have requested the mayoral administration and local health officials to brief councilors on how the city is preparing for the coronavirus.
Responding to other councilors’ concerns about breaking the council’s rules against adding agenda items at the last minute, Dunn argued that they had “an obligation” to discuss the spread of COVID-19, a pandemic that he described as an emergency for New Bedford.
“We need to meet as soon as possible as a public body, because it’s our responsibility to keep our residents safe, and if we don’t think we have any value to add to that conversation, then I'm not sure what we’re doing here,” Dunn said after the meeting.
At-Large City Councilors Linda Morad and Brian Gomes spoke against Dunn’s motion on the grounds that it would violate the council’s rules against late-file agenda items, a once-common practice that Morad warned had been abused in the past.
Dunn’s motion – which sought a briefing from the mayor's office, the city's health department and representatives from SouthCoast Health System – was subsequently defeated in a 4-5 vote.
Gomes also noted that Mayor Jon Mitchell’s Office had already announced earlier Thursday that the administration would be holding a press conference on Friday to discuss the city’s response to the coronavirus.
“Let them do their thing tomorrow morning, then we’ll see what comes out of it,” said Gomes, who as chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee inquired about the possibility of the committee discussing Dunn’s motion at its next public meeting on Monday. But Gomes said doing so ran the risk of the committee running afoul of the state Open Meeting Law’s requirement that known agenda items be posted 48 hours in advance of a meeting.
“I know the urgency of what this is all about. We all do,” Gomes said after the meeting. “We want to keep the City of New Bedford as safe as we can.”
Last week, the city announced that the New Bedford Health Department had started posting information about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, on its website. Officials said the page would be continually updated with new information regarding COVID-19, which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The city’s health department website also includes links to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.