New Bedford Mayor Mitchell Vetoes City Council’s Proposed Ballot Questions
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell has filed with the city council his veto on all three of the non-binding questions the council approved to appear on the November ballot dealing with the issues of rent stabilization, the four-year mayoral term and repealing the Community Preservation Act.
The vetoes come on the eve of the March 23 council meeting, and two weeks after the ballot questions were approved by council vote.
“Each of these measures, if ultimately enacted into law, would have profound implications for the operation of City government, the municipal budget, historic preservation and open space, and the City’s ability to facilitate the development of housing for those who need,” Mitchell wrote to the council in a strongly-worded letter.
“They raise complex policy questions for which the public would reasonably expect a thorough quantification of their likely impact, a review of relevant policy literature, the input of the administration, and a robust public debate of alternatives,” he wrote. “The council failed to take any of these basic steps of legislative deliberation.”
Mitchell suggested in the letter that the council “took up all three items at the first opportunity, skipping the committee process, whose very purpose is to allow for a deliberate analysis of policy questions” despite, he said, “no sign of public demand for action on the ideas underlying them.”
Mitchell also pointed out how little time was spent discussing the questions in the March 9 meeting.
“Nevertheless, the council passed the items nearly unanimously,” he wrote. “A fact that, if nothing else, begs questions about the council’s compliance with the state’s Open Meeting Law.”
Mitchell also took exception to the characterization that these issues were best left to the voters.
“In the days that followed, some councilors responded to public criticism of their votes by contending that no deliberation was necessary because the council’s purpose was to place the questions before the voters. They maintained that the public should decide the matters on their own,” Mitchell wrote. “The public will recognize this, however, as a cop-out.”
In a statement to WBSM, Council President Linda Morad took exception to Mayor Mitchell’s characterization of the ballot questions and the process by which they were voted on by the council.
“My colleagues and I will have more to say as a body in the next few days regarding the comments made in the mayor’s veto letter that was received by our office late this afternoon,” Morad said. “However, the overall message of the veto letter is degrading to the council’s role in City government. The comments are demeaning to the work that my colleagues do in earnest every day on behalf of the residents; and the accusation that the council was in violation of Open Meeting Law without any evidence to support that accusation is very unfortunate.”
“I had hoped that some progress had been made in the past several months on mending the rift that has existed for several years now between the city council and the Mitchell Administration,” she said. “The unfortunate tone of this correspondence certainly diminishes that hope.”
Read Mayor Mitchell's Complete Veto Letter Here
On the issue of the Community Preservation Act, Mitchell pointed out that since it was adopted by city voters in 2014, “it has enabled the City to complete a total of $15.6 million in preservation and open space projects, of which the City leveraged a total of $7.2 million of state and private funds – by any standard, a healthy return on investment.”
Council President Morad had proposed that question after saying she’d received “regular calls” from residents asking to have the 1.5 percent surcharge on residential taxes that funds the CPA removed from their tax bills.
As for the potential overturning of the four-year mayoral term, Mitchell pointed out that the voters followed the proper process in 2017 to have it switched from a two-year term by collecting signatures to place it on the ballot.
“If certain councilors believe the voters were wrong and that the mayor’s term should be shorter, those councilors are at liberty to gather the signatures necessary to place the matter on the municipal ballot, as was done in 2017,” he wrote. “Proceeding instead with a non-binding referendum will only raise questions about its real purpose.”
The rent stabilization question was proposed by Councilor at Large Shane Burgo and presented as a percentage cap of how much landlords could raise the rent from lease year to lease year. Mitchell said it’s already negatively affecting potential housing coming into the city.
“In the past week, my office received calls from real estate developers who have said even the publicity surrounding the council’s vote this month gives them and their colleagues pause about investing in New Bedford,” Mitchell wrote.
He also pointed out that the City’s Department of Housing and Community Development “is finishing up a comprehensive housing plan based on input from public hearings in the past several months, along with that of city councilors, developers and other businesses, and will be released later this month.”
Councilors would need a super majority, or eight votes, to bypass Mitchell’s veto and place the questions on the ballot. It is believed that both the rent stabilization question and the four-year mayoral term have the necessary votes to do so.