New Bedford Councilor Gomes Decries ‘Acrimony’ of Mitchell Veto on Mayoral Term Ballot Question
New Bedford City Councilor at Large Brian Gomes has issued a press release responding to Mayor Jon Mitchell’s veto of the proposed non-binding ballot question that would ask city voters if they wished to revert back a two-year term for the mayor.
“Some six years after changing the term of mayor from two to four years, the public needs to speak on this issue once again,” Gomes wrote.
The city council approved the non-binding ballot question last month, along with non-binding questions regarding rent stabilization and repealing the Community Preservation Act. Mitchell submitted his veto later in the month, along with a strongly-worded letter in which he cited the “stability” of a four-year term and said he has not heard public outcry to go back to a two-year mayoral term.
“There has been no evident groundswell of support to reverse existing policy,” Mitchell wrote, calling into question the political motivations of the ballot questions and the process by which they were created and placed on the ballot, including hinting that there might have been a violation of the state’s Open Meeting Law.
“In my 30 years of serving in city government, I have never seen such acrimony toward an idea to merely ask the public what they think,” Gomes wrote.
Gomes called out both Mitchell and the One SouthCoast Chamber’s Rick Kidder for their comments about the ballot question, especially Mitchell saying it would create “instability” and that it was “irresponsible” to ask the public’s opinion, and Kidder calling it “damaging to the community” and the “worst form of transparency and due diligence.”
“Mayor Mitchell and Kidder weren’t really opposed to the ballot questions,” Gomes wrote. “They were afraid of what the public’s answer might be.”
“Neither had any problem with asking the public to change the term to their preferred number of years several years ago, but once they got what they wanted, they simply don’t want any action to change it,” he wrote.
The mayoral term was extended beginning in 2019 after a 2017 ballot initiative by the citizens group New Bedford Fourward. The group gathered the necessary 2,500 signatures to have the question about extending it from a two-year to a four-year term placed on the November 2017 city ballot.
The question passed with 6,904 “yes” votes to 6,127 “no” votes. With 14,098 votes cast in that election, that meant 1,1067 voters left the question, which appeared on the front side of the ballot, blank.
Mitchell was re-elected in 2019 to the first four-year mayoral term in city history. He has not yet said if he plans to run for another term.
In his release, Gomes states that while Mitchell says there was no public outcry to go back to a two-year mayoral term, that was also the case about changing it in the first place.
“Prior to them getting the question on the ballot, there was no public outcry for a four-year term; there was no strong public opinion about the subject, no public hearings, no public meetings,” Gomes wrote. “Perhaps there was some discussion inside the elite bubble in which they live, but that doesn’t make it a public outcry.”
“I will only say that prior to running for mayor, I know of no organized effort by then-citizen Jon Mitchell to make the mayor a four-year term. It seemed to only become important enough once he was the incumbent mayor,” Gomes wrote.
Gomes also said it is important to have the mayor on the ballot every two years to drive voter participation for other races also on that ballot.
Previously, Councilor at Large Shane Burgo issued a press release responding to Mitchell’s veto of the rent stabilization question, and Council President Linda Morad similarly responded to the veto of the CPA question.