NEW BEDFORD (WBSM) — New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said he "feels bad" for the organizers of a failed petition for a ballot question that sets a four-term limit on city councilors.

Speaking on WBSM’s Southcoast Now on Wednesday, Mitchell said that Catherine Adamowicz and Paul Hankins were impressive for collecting 2,700 signatures throughout the summer and said he would have voted in favor of the question if it were approved.

“They worked really hard on this and did it in good faith,” Mitchell said. “They demonstrated that kind of initiative you want to see in any city. If somebody sees a problem that they'd like to see fixed, it’s a lot to be said to take it into your own hands.”

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Adamowicz and Hankins had spent their summer trying to collect over 3,100 signatures for a petition for a ballot question that would set term limits for city councilors.

The four-term limit would apply to any councilor elected once it is in place, but would not take previous service into account.

The two modeled their efforts based on a 2017 campaign that successfully changed the mayor's term limit from two to four years.

After collecting about 2,700 signatures, the two were notified by City Solicitor Eric Jaikes that collecting signatures for a ballot question was not the correct procedure in this case.

New Bedford Light’s Arthur Hirsch reported that Jaikes told Adamowicz, Hankins and their lawyer, John Zajac, that the 2017 campaign was built upon Massachusetts General Law Chapter 43 Section 17c, which states that petitions signed by at least five percent of the number of registered voters may become a ballot question that changes the term limits for only the mayor's office.

The confusion over collecting signatures stems from meetings in the spring and summer between Adamowicz and Manny DeBrito, head of New Bedford's Board of Election Commissioners.

Speaking on WBSM's Tim Weisberg Show on Tuesday, Adamowicz said DeBrito told her she could use the 2017 campaign as the basis for her operation to collect signatures.

According to Mitchell, however, DeBrito only suggested the 2017 model as a point of reference and said he would check with City Solicitor Jaikes on the procedure's legality.

“What she and others have proposed would have been a change to the city’s charter, which is the city’s constitution,” Mitchell said. “As such, it's no light matter to amend a charter. It’s a big deal, and therefore the requirement to effectuate those changes entails some heavy lifting.”

Questions about the meetings have led to accusations that DeBrito did not provide concise information to Adamowicz and Hankins and set them on a path to failure.

Mitchell defended DeBrito and suggested that Zajac bore some responsibility by allowing them to proceed with the signature collections.

“To my mind, the elections office, the solicitor's office, they are neutrals,” Mitchell said. “They cannot provide legal advice for those trying to advance an initiative.”

After the campaign to collect signatures failed, Adamowicz began a new campaign to get supports to call the mayor and the city council and ask them to put the question on the November ballot.

Calling into Southcoast Now on Wednesday, Adamowicz asked Mitchell if he would support the idea.

Adamowicz also suggested another option that could lead to the term limits, involving the creation of a special commission to investigate a proposal of crafting a ballot question that would impose term limits for all elected officials in New Bedford.

"No matter what, I believe and others should believe that the question should be on the ballot," Adamowicz said. "I encourage you to do that with the city council."

Mitchell said while he supported the idea, he would need to see a detailed proposal before deciding.

"I am open to the idea of term limits," Mitchell said. "There are a lot of policy decisions that need to be made. It needs to be fleshed out a little bit more."

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