Here’s an idea: Let’s put the following questions on the November city ballot. 1. Should New Bedford city councilors be term-limited to four two-year terms; and 2. Should pay increases for some city managers of as much as 25%, and sponsored and approved by the current City Council, be rolled back to around 10%.

Since the council out of the blue has decided that it just has to hear what the voters think about certain issues, these two topics seem to be more on the minds of New Bedford voters than the questions councilors are actually trying to place on the ballot.

At least the voters I encounter.

There may be some value in asking voters what they think of the third referendum question, freshman Councilor Shane Burgo’s so-called “rent stabilization” inquiry related to the explosion of housing costs — rents and mortgages — in New Bedford. But there is virtually no value, beyond political motivation, of the referendums on eliminating the popular Community Preservation Act and the relatively new four-year mayoral term. The latter two questions have both been approved by the voters at the ballot box, and just within the last 10 years. (For the record, Mayor Jon Mitchell has already vetoed all three ballot questions.)

There really does seem to be a lot of talk in the city about term-limiting the councilors and rolling back the pay increases that they recently granted over the recommendations of the city’s personnel office.

City Councilor Shane Burgo. Credit: Photo provided

Perhaps the term-limits question is something that the three freshman councilors — Burgo, Ryan Pereira and Shawn Oliver — might be interested in sponsoring as a joint motion, in the interests of bringing some new blood and ideas to the council. All three of them voted for at least two of the other referendums, despite there being no public outcry for them. All three of them ran for the job advocating new ways of doing things for the council.

Would the freshmen councilors dare to risk the wrath of the senior councilors by doing that? Probably not; payback on the City Council can have a long, long half-life.

Speaking of half-lives, Councilor Brian Gomes is presently in his 33rd year on the council, Council President Linda Morad is in her 18th year and Councilor Naomi Carney is in her 12th year.

It is certainly laudable for all of them to give their public service so long but perhaps there are other ways they could contribute.

And please don’t make the argument that they are already on the ballot every two years for the voters to decide. They are all at-large councilors who only need a core group of supporters for whom they have done favors in order to win one of the five available at-large council seats. In the at-large race, up to 10 candidates compete for the five seats every two years.

I don’t believe at this point that any of the three — Gomes, Morad or Carney — could win a two-person race for any office in the city. Their approach to governance and their aversion to compromise have been nothing less than poisonous to city politics over the last decade or so.


The council has claimed there is a groundswell for putting the four-year term on the ballot, but I hear much more talk about getting rid of some of the long-term councilors themselves.

As for the council voting to put the popular CPA law on the ballot, it’s hard to even fathom that they are thinking about repealing a law that has brought in $7.2 million in state funds to the city over the last decade.

But there is increasing talk in the city about the dysfunction of the present City Council and the longtime council leaders who are principally responsible for it. My suggestion is that if Councilors Burgo, Pereira and Oliver put the term limit and employee salary questions on the ballot, and made them “binding” on the city government, rather than these other political posturing nonbinding questions, they would win hands down.

Close observers of the city’s politics know what is going on here.

The referendum about returning to the four-year mayoral term and abolishing the CPA are simply Council President Morad and long-time Councilor Gomes’ attempts to capitalize on a more earnest attempt by freshman Councilor Burgo to do something, by way of referendum, about a real problem that citizens are actually talking about. He might have done better, however, if he had collected signatures to demonstrate the groundswell for the idea. That would have at least avoided him being caught in Morad and Gomes’ shadow referendums trap.

Councilor Burgo’s very generalized rent-stabilization question may be flawed in the sense that it won’t tell us more than what we already know — that we have a housing crisis in New Bedford that residents want their leaders to do something about. But at least it is connected to a serious issue. Morad and Gomes’ questions are just about trying to see if a low-turnout election can force the strong, ideologically-driven views of a minority of city residents down the throats of everyone else. And they are about putting Mayor Mitchell on the defensive if he decides to run for an unprecedented sixth term, which would lengthen his record as the longest consecutive-serving mayor in New Bedford’s history.

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Only legendary mayor Charles Ashley, who served six sets of non-consecutive terms between 1891 and 1936, has served longer.

That fact alone about Mitchell must drive these two longest-serving city councilors — Gomes and Morad — to distraction as they have both run against him for mayor and from all the available evidence would still very much like to be mayor themselves.

The council, of course, has already somewhat reduced the city employee raises, initially passed to allow salary increases of as much as 50% in some cases. They were reduced to about 25% after public outcry to their initial action. But there is now a call from both the public and the mayor for further reduction.

Let’s follow the council and put it on the ballot! The salary increases are a good example of why staying on the council too long ends up having a detrimental effect on city residents to the benefit of city employees.

Despite Morad’s protestations to the contrary, here is the way the referenda bonanza actually developed.

The rapidly escalating housing crisis had long been on Councilor Burgo’s mind. Morad and Gomes, when they got wind of the freshman councilor’s intentions to go the way of referendum on what undoubtedly would be a controversial version of rent control, used the opportunity to propose ballot questions for two of their own longtime pet issues — opposition to the CPA and the four-year mayoral term.

They quickly signed on to putting Burgo’s nonbinding rent stabilization referendum on the ballot, and that seems to have in turn won his backing, as well as Councilor Derek Baptiste, for Morad’s CPA repeal.

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It was striking that both Burgo and Baptiste, central city councilors who spoke in favor of the CPA and who had voted against a binding referendum on the matter, nevertheless then voted for Morad’s nonbinding version of it.

It’s hard to figure why they would do that — the city neighborhoods that they call home have benefitted more than any other areas from New Bedford’s participation in the CPA. And Councilor Morad herself had said if the nonbinding CPA questions passes, it should then lead the council to put a binding CPA referendum on the ballot. If New Bedford has another one of its low-turnout elections, that could have disastrous consequences for the CPA. A minority of residents would have given a rationale for voting it out.

Councilor Burgo, I think, has made a serious mistake aligning himself with Morad and Gomes on their ballot questions — he joined them co-sponsoring Gome’s four-year term and they joined him on the rent stabilization question. By Burgo’s own admission, much of the discussion is now focused on the threat to the CPA question sponsored by herself by Morad, and the political nature of the four-year mayoral question. The community-wide discussion of the housing crisis that he wanted has gotten lost in the political clouds of the other questions.

A lot of this seems to be the result of Burgo giving up on his relationship with Mayor Mitchell. Sadly, he has taken a page out of the council president’s lack of communication book, and he did not tell the mayor about his proposal. For her part, Morad claims she is finally talking to the mayor again, but the mayor says she never mentioned to him her plans for two referendums.

Burgo has correctly judged that Mitchell is rather reflexively against any kind of rent control, and probably would not willingly engage in a discussion on his rent stabilization ideas. In fact, the mayor asserts that just the possibility of the referendum has already adversely affected development in the city.

Burgo says he wants an ordinance that would be different from the old rent-control laws in Massachusetts. His ideas would not set dollar caps on either mom-and-pop owned buildings or on new development. And he would allow annual percentage increases to rents every year. Those are interesting ideas, but there are certainly legitimate arguments that can be raised about their possible adverse effects on both housing development and building maintenance. However you feel about Burgo’s proposal — whether it should ultimately go on the ballot or not —  at least it is not purely political in nature.

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell announces the “Building New Bedford” plan. Credit: New Bedford Government Access screenshot

So, even as the council heads toward this referendum, Mitchell released this week his own plan to encourage more affordable housing in the city, largely centered around increasing the housing stock, as opposed to controlling prices.

All these issues around housing are a discussion well worth having. But not in the overly political way that they have developed in connection to the Morad referenda.

If the rent stabilization question is approved by voters, Burgo correctly assesses that it would put pressure on both the mayor and the state legislators to push for a change in state law to allow it. It’s interesting that the New Bedford legislative delegation has remained largely silent on the issue. Heck, some of the councilors who voted to put it on the ballot — Morad and Ryan Pereira (and Ian Abreu who was not present for the vote) — will certainly never vote to adopt it.

Which all means we are back to City Council dysfunction. Councilors maneuvering and voting for things they don’t even believe in, just to gain political advantage.

In addition to making a mistake by not bringing the mayor into the conversation, I think Burgo was ill-advised in not reaching out to the Realtors association and One SouthCoast Chamber.

Neither of those groups is ever going to take a pro-rent stabilization position, but they may have made suggestions to make the plan more palatable. More likely, they would not sign on to anything that sounds like rent control, but that would have at least given Burgo the high ground in going to a referendum.

The City Council will take up the Mitchell vetoes in the near future. Now might be a good time for them to take a step back and think about what they are doing.

Does the council really want to ensure that the 2023 city election becomes a meaningless referendum debacle, just to score points against this mayor?

Does it really want to increase the likelihood that city government grinds to a halt for the next year on this important issue, while everyone waits for the referendum results?

If it does, then it should add the council term-limit and employee salary questions to the four-year term and CPA questions. Or better yet replace them.

If we’re going to waste time, we might as well make it as entertaining as we can.

Correction: Councilor Linda Morad originated the CPA referendum question and Councilor Brian Gomes originated the question on changing the four-year mayoral term to two. Both councilors co-sponsored Councilor Shane Burgo’s rent stabilization question and Burgo and Morad co-sponsored Gomes’ change of the mayoral term question.

Email columnist Jack Spillane at

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  1. A very good idea for both mayors and councilors. It would encourage more community minded people to run for office as a citizens service, as opposed to power grabbing. As for the 10% salary increase, it should be considered generous. Politicians know full well what their salaries will be when they run for office.

  2. Morad claims to here the voice of the people, but it seems like only when it her voice. If low voter turn out is reason to revisit the mayoral question, how about counsel elections.

  3. it is very clear that Jack Spillane is anti-city council and pro mayor. As a columnist, he continues to add fuel to the fire and widen the divide. So much for unbiased journalism.

  4. I am disappointed that you have not mentioned the most concerning part of the proposed referenda and the subsequent vetos: the Mayor vetoed a motion for a non-binding referendum question to return to a two year Mayoral term. I can’t be the only one who sees this as a conflict of interest, and very muddy ethical waters! The Mayor should not have vetoed that motion since a change in the length of his term affects his personal finances.

  5. Not many years ago, we voted in the change for the mayoral term from two to four years. That recent decision should not be challenged so soon because someone dislikes the current mayor.

  6. That about says it all! Jack, Keep talking and hopefully people will listen and act on this!

  7. Rent control is a hard sell, which does not mean it is not worthwhile. The way to address Mitchell’s claim that rent control will scare away developers is to do it as California did: Rent control can only apply to housing built before 1995. And now there is statewide rent control in California: No increase over 5% per year. Now that I’m back in Mass., I would love to see rent control. The rents in places come close to Silicon Valley where salaries, even nonprofit salaries, are higher, and heating/cooling bills are much lower. (The purchase price of real estate is hugely higher, though.) NB property owners might find that asking rents that are akin to monthly mortgage payments in the city will bring them only folks with bad credit who could not purchase anything.

    1. Comparing any other place in America is certainly like comparing apples and bowling balls. California with it’s majority liberal Democrat legislature is so far left like Massachusettes, if they don’t like the greatest and most effective proposals to be enacted because they don’t like it.
      If you want rent control, pack your bags and go live in one of the many socialist countries in the world, this is America, a capitalist nation, and if I want to charge $10,000 per month for rent, that’s my option, nobody else’s. What’s next, controlling the cost of cars, home sales prices? The majority of people have many different ideas on what affordable housing is, and should be, but what it’s not is a cost based on your income, if you don’t like the housing costs here, find another city, state, or nation to live in, the world is a large place.

  8. I didn’t realize Homes has been a city councilors for 33 years, that definitely screams for term limits as “serving” the people of New Bedford should never be used as a career option, but it will be brushed off as racism if someone challenges him on the topic.
    With that said, I’m 100% in favor of term limits for city councilors regardless of how effective they believe they are, it’s the some voices with the same problems, and if any city councilor has a problem with the Mayor the citizens elected, they should step down and allow someone else who can and work with the Mayor in the best interests of the city, afterall, the clowns on the city council are basically useless, but they think they’re much more, I’m surprised some can even walk thru the doors with as big as their heads have become.

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