New Bedford City Councilors’ Walkout Looms Over Next Meeting
The December 13 meeting on the New Bedford City Council's Committee on Appointments and Briefings lasted approximately three minutes after the two freshmen on the council, Councilor at Large Shane Burgo and Ward 6 Councilor Ryan Pereira, walked out.
Their departure resulted in the meeting no longer having the required quorum of six councilors to take votes.
The the primary responsibilities of the Committee on Appointments on Briefings, chaired by Councilor at Large Naomi Carney, are to confirm or reject appointments made by the mayor to city boards and commissions, hold hearings for demolitions, and consider residency waivers for those who wish to deal in pawn shops and old metals in the city.
On the agenda were 10 items which included three nominations for the New Bedford Port Authority, as well as nominations for constable, the Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech School Committee, the Veterans Advisory Board, the licensing board, the Board of Health, and a hearing on the potential demolition of a historic building.
Prior to the walkout, the meeting had a total of seven councilor's present: Burgo, Perreira, Carney, Ward 1 Councilor Brad Markey, Ward 2 Councilor Maria Giesta, Ward 4 Councilor Derek Baptiste and Councilor at Large Linda Morad.
The Ward 3 city council seat was recently vacated when former Councilor Hugh Dunn resigned in early December. His seat will be filled at the conclusion of an ongoing special election on February 28.
The walkout followed a motion to adjourn made by Burgo on the grounds that not enough councilors were present to adequately consider the items on the agenda. The motion was seconded by Councilor Perreira. Burgo, Perreira and Baptiste voted in favor with the rest of the council voting in opposition, resulting in the motion's failure on the floor.
Recently, Councilor Burgo joined WBSM's SouthCoast Tonight to explain why he and his fellow freshman colleague had decided to walk out.
Burgo said he believes that the meeting was scheduled at an intentionally inconvenient time by Carney, in the middle of the holiday season when councilors' schedules are filled with personal and professional commitments, to ensure fewer councilors would be there to consider the appointments on the agenda.
"People understand math as one plus one equals two," Burgo said. "But political math is something completely different than the typical math you learn in school."
He explained that six votes are needed approve an appointment to the council, which meant that only two councilors could control the outcome of each nominee.
"There has been a lot said about: 'Hey, he made the motion, and the motion failed,'' Burgo said. "But what they don't understand is that whether I had five votes out of the seven to adjourn that meeting, political math tells us we need six votes to do anything in this chamber, and sometimes eight."
Burgo said he suspects there was a deliberate intention to sabotage the appointment of Carol Pimintel to the Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech School Committee, and Ricard J. Rezendes to the licensing board.
Burgo stressed particular importance on the Voc-Tech school committee appointment. He warned that the school may be opening itself up to a lawsuit if it continues not to follow the new admission standards issued by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and that Pimentel is someone who will advocate for implementing those standards.
The freshman councilor also said that he understands and shares the frustration of those who were waiting for their nomination vote, adding that some nominations have been stuck in committee since Spring of 2021. However, he said it is important that when they do finally get a vote that it cannot be held up by just two councilors.
"People are saying 'Oh he's delaying it even more till next year.' But what they don't understand is if those appointments failed that there's no going back, and we have the start the process all over again with a new name," he said.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, in a separate appearance on SouthCoast Tonight, offered a full-throated support of Councilor Burgo and Perreira's actions. He also accused Carney of intentionally stalling his nominations.
"(Councilors Burgo and Perreira) were actually doing the right thing to my mind," Mitchell said. "The nominations were – after many, many months – taken up after a hugely inconvenient time. (Carney) knew that."
"I think under the circumstances (Burgo and Perreira) did a difficult thing, which is not let this charade of a hearing proceed," Mitchell said.
Councilor Carney made her own appearance on SouthCoast Tonight to give her side of the story. She rebuffed Burgo and Mitchell's accusations that she was stalling the appointments.
"When I get appointed to my committees, I schedule my meetings the very next day," she said. "My meetings for Appointments and Briefings are always the third Tuesday of the month."
Carney added that she moved the meeting up a week earlier to try and avoid the busy holiday schedule. She also said she wished Burgo and Perreira would have brought the attendance issue to her before the meeting instead of walking out.
With respect to the nominees that are on the agenda, Carney said she has no opposition to any particular nominee and is expects the council to hear from each nominee in the next meeting on January 10 and put them to a floor vote.