New Bedford Mayor, Councilor Get Into Heated Discussion Over Pawn Shop Waiver
Things got rather heated during New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell’s weekly appearance on WBSM Wednesday, when City Councilor at Large Brian Gomes took issue with Mitchell’s veto of the council’s approval of a residency waiver for a pawn shop owner that would be operating next to the proposed methadone clinic downtown.
The residency waiver was required because the new owner of the Fall River Pawnbrokers location at 268 Union Street is not a city resident and city code requires pawn shop operators to either live in the city or obtain a residency waiver.
A proposed medical clinic that would offer methadone, Vivitrol and other addiction resources is planned for the same building, as its parent company Recovery Connection Centers of America is seeking a special permit from the New Bedford Zoning Board of Appeals in order to operate at the downtown location.
Mitchell Vetoes the Residency Waiver
In a letter to the city council dated October 24, Mayor Mitchell vetoed the residency waiver, stating that the location “is immediately adjacent to the site where a proposed substance abuse treatment center would be located.”
“I am concerned that the co-location of these two uses increases the possibility of illicit activity in their general vicinity,” Mitchell wrote. “I believe that before the City approves the petition for a residency waiver, the Council’s Public Safety Committee should thoroughly analyze the risks to public safety that these two businesses pose together for the neighborhood.”
The city council voted to file away the mayor’s veto but took no action on it.
Mitchell Takes the New Bedford City Council to Task
During his weekly appearance on WBSM, Mitchell reiterated that he believed the council should have had a discussion about the two businesses operating side by side, rather than only discussing the legality of his veto.
“There was evidently no discussion in the city council about this, so I said you need to go back and discuss it,” Mitchell said of the veto. “Instead of doing that, the city council just said you don’t have the legal authority to veto this waiver of residency for the pawn broker owner, so our position is the waiver of residency is valid, so he can go ahead and do his thing and we’re not going to discuss it any further.”
“To my mind, that was not responsible on their part,” he said. “There should be more deliberation on this matter, and so we’re looking at our legal options here.”
Gomes Challenges Mitchell on the Council’s Actions
Councilor Gomes then called it to challenge Mitchell on his characterization of the vote.
“The mayor’s on the radio this morning misleading the public on the actions of the city council and I’m not going to sit by and let him do that,” Gomes said. “He’s mixing apples with oranges.”
“When we had this gentleman come before us for a waiver for the pawn shop, he was qualified, he ran pawn shops in other places, and we’re not going to stop him from getting the license,” Gomes said.
“The mayor wants to punish the new owner because he plans to put a clinic next door. We realize we don’t want that there. I was one of the first to talk about that,” Gomes said. “But let’s not mislead the people that the city council did not do its job, or deliberate or whatever. You sent back a veto, we legally gave the license to the pawnbroker, he is in the business and can have the shop there, and why are you mixing with apples and oranges, sir?”
The two then went back and forth as to whether the residency waiver and the proposed location of the clinic next store are separate issues; Gomes said the vote on the waiver based solely on the applicant’s ability to run a pawn shop, while Mitchell maintained that the council should not have separated the fact that a methadone clinic is planned for next door when making its decision.
“You have two separate things here,” Gomes said.
“No, they’re not separate,” Mitchell replied. “They’re right next door to each other, councilor.”
Listen to Councilor Gomes' Call Into "Mid-Week With the Mayor" Here:
Things Get Heated Between Mitchell and Gomes
Gomes argued that since the pawn shop was already in existence and the clinic is only proposed, they’re “two separate entities,” he said.
“We are already addressing the issue and I really don’t think the clinic is going there, but we’re going to have to wait and see what the zoning board does,” he said. “But don’t sit there and tell the people of the city that we did not do our job and check out this guy and make sure he was appropriate.”
“Thanks for your speech,” Mitchell replied. “They are literally right next door to each other. They share a wall.”
“The city council did not take up what might happen when you mix the two together,” he said. “So as much as you want to say they are separate, they are not separate. They are right next door to one another, they share a wall – and that’s a fair question that the council did not even entertain.”
Gomes took exception to Mitchell’s “speech” remark.
“I’m not here to make speeches. Don’t do me like that Mr Mayor, i’m asking you, don’t do that,” he said. “I came to talk to you, don’t talk about speeches. You’re a man of speeches.”
Mitchell replied with a chuckle.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. “This is a city councilor who has not returned a phone call in two years, so I’m happy to have all these discussions, but if you want to have discussions on the telephone, on the radio, we can do that.”
“Don’t tell the people of this city that I haven’t returned a call to you in two years because I’ve answered your call, even on a Sunday afternoon when I’m out doing some shopping when you want to give me your (spiel) about what you want to do with Hathaway Road. I’ve answered your call,” Gomes said. “I don’t choose to answer your call because you’re not a mayor that works well with – ”
“So you agree you don’t return my calls?” Mitchell cut in. “So you just agreed that you don’t return my calls.”
“What calls? What call did you make to me, sir?” Gomes asked. “You tell me what call you made to me. ”
“Well, I’ll call you right after the show,” Mitchell said. “I’m happy to talk to you, Brian, but you haven’t returned my call in two years.”
“You’re full of it,” Gomes replied. “You’re full of it.”
“Alright, so I'll call you right after the show,” Mitchell said. “I’m happy to chit-chat.”
“I don’t want to chit chat with you. Have a great day,” Gomes said, hanging up the phone.
The New Bedford Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a public meeting on Thursday, November 17 at 6 p.m. in the upstairs conference room of the New Bedford Free Public Library on Pleasant Street.