Mayor Jon Mitchell. Credit: Grace Ferguson / The New Bedford Light

NEW BEDFORD — Mayor Jon Mitchell wants to roll back many of the largest salary increases approved by the City Council and signed by the mayor last month in an overhaul of the pay structure for city department managers and other specialists, saying council decisions were not based on sound analysis and led to “excessive” pay boosts.

The six amendments to the ordinance adopted by the council would largely revert to the proposal the administration made in October revamping pay classifications for 151 nonunion positions. The salary overhaul, based on more than a year’s study comparing salaries for the positions in New Bedford and other municipalities, is meant to help the city better compete in a tight labor market. 

The amendments also include a proposal to drop the 10% salary penalty for employees in this group who do not live in the city. That provision was adopted by the council in 2020 over the mayor’s veto.  

The council in the fall drafted its own version of the administration’s proposal that led to pay increases for a small number of department heads of as much as 35% to 60%, but were ultimately capped at no more than about 25%. The council set the ceiling when it adopted the ordinance on Jan. 12, as many councilors said they had heard from constituents who were unhappy about reports of the highest salary increases. 


Mitchell’s amendments go further, targeting 20 positions that the council bumped up two pay grades or more above the administration’s original proposal. He wants all of those — including the director of community services, the animal control director and the director of licensing, which were slated for some of the highest pay raises — set back to the level proposed by the administration when the plan was first unveiled in October. 

Perhaps more significant in terms of its impact on the highest salaries, Mitchell’s changes also would drop an amendment proposed by At-large Councilor Naomi R.A. Carney that was meant to reward long-standing employees. The salaries that got the biggest boosts as a result of this amendment were affected by the 25% cap.

The mayor’s amendment drops provisions specifying step increases for employees with between 6 and 25 years or more of service. The change provides for a minimum 5% increase, and raises to follow according to the pay step schedule.

The administration’s changes gave most positions an increase of about 5% to 10%, and for most positions stayed within about 10% of median salaries in other communities considered for comparison, including Worcester, Springfield, Taunton, Brockton and Fall River. A study found that New Bedford salaries were lagging 13% behind other communities.  

“What the council did was arbitrary,” Mitchell said in an interview Friday. 

In a letter to the council attached to his pay grade amendment, he wrote that council decisions “were not supported by a labor market analysis or an assessment or their impacts on internal compensation equity — both within and among city departments. And in several instances, the resulting salary increases were excessive.”

As the council proposal took shape in the fall, Mitchell made clear that he was not happy with it. He said consistently that he would sign it nonetheless and propose changes later out of a sense of urgency to put the city in a stronger position soonest to compete for employees.

“I signed it because we had to get on the books as much of the original proposal as possible,” Mitchell said. “We need reinforcements. This is just following up on what I said I would do.”

Mitchell said the city overall — within this employee group and beyond — is more than 200 employees short of a full complement of about 1,300.

All members of the City Council were asked for their comment on the amendments, but only one, Ward 6 Councilor Ryan Pereira, responded to the request. He said he had not yet had a chance to read the amendments, which the mayor sent out on Thursday, but said “I’m sure he gives good reasons for the changes.”

The pay-grade amendment leaves in place one-grade salary bumps set by the council above the administration proposal for 30 positions, including airport manager and city planner. It also leaves in place salary jumps of two grades or more for 36 positions that were included in the administration’s original plan, including  the director of emergency management, which jumped six grades, and the assistant city solicitor, which jumped three.

The mayor’s amendments would drop the starting salary for the director of licensing from $96,425 to $71,381, a difference of more than $25,000. The starting salary for the director of community services would drop from $110,396 to $85,016, also a difference of about $25,000. The salary for someone starting as animal control director would drop from $96,425 to $67,340, a difference of more than $29,000. These numbers are based on the first step of the pay grade, and do not reflect the actual salaries of the people now holding those positions who have earned step increases. 

The change in residency revisits a dispute that unfolded between the mayor and council a few years ago.

In his cover letter on that amendment, Mitchell said that when he vetoed the measure “I expressed my serious concern that the sweeping residency ordinance passed by the Council would make it more difficult for the City to attract talent.” He said that concern has indeed made recruiting more difficult amid more intense competition for municipal professionals. 

One of the amendments would also give the administration more flexibility in negotiating salaries within a range of three steps without getting the council’s permission to do so. 

Mitchell said he spoke about the changes with City Council President At-Large Councilor Linda Morad and with At-Large Councilor Ian Abreu, the first vice president of the council. Asked about Morad’s reaction, he said “obviously she doesn’t want to go back over this ground.

 “I hope they give it careful consideration,” he said, “but if it remains, it remains the law.”

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