NEW BEDFORD — The City Council on Thursday night rejected all but one of Mayor Jon Mitchell’s proposed changes to a salary overhaul for department heads and other specialists, as several members lashed him for ignoring their requests for information as the new personnel ordinance took shape, then publicly criticizing their work on it.
“We did our job,” said Council President Linda M. Morad, an at-large councilor who has served on the council for nearly 20 years and has often clashed with Mitchell. “The problem here is the guy upstairs doesn’t know how to play.”
Morad, who lost to Mitchell and state Rep. Antonio Cabral in a five-candidate mayoral primary when Mitchell first sought the office in 2011, said “everything in this administration is done behind closed doors. This is a government. It’s checks and balances. You don’t insult people.”
In a brief interview after the meeting, she said that she had been shut off from getting answers from department heads during work on the proposal.
“How are we surprised?” asked Councilor Derek Baptiste of Ward 4. “When you deal with an elitist who looks down on everyone … including the people of this city … I’m not a Harvard grad, I don’t know how many people in the city are Harvard grads,” he said referring to Mitchell, a 53-year-old former assistant U.S. Attorney and federal prosecutor who graduated from Harvard University.
This morning (Friday), Mayor Mitchell told The Light he had followed up on what he said he would do, which was to “file corrections to the mess they made of the salary schedule,” but the council was not engaging on the substance of his amendments.
“It’s unfortunate that certain councilors have resorted to name calling and generalized insinuations” about how the administration has worked with the council, rather than deal “with the merits of the proposals.”
He said that he had told department heads to refer Morad’s calls to him, as she had been “abusive” to city officials in the past. He said Morad would not call him, and “she hadn’t returned a phone call to me in two years.”
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In presenting his amendments to the council last week, Mitchell included a letter saying the council’s changes to his original plan unveiled in October “were not supported by labor market analysis or an assessment of their impacts on internal compensation equity — both within and among city departments. And in several instances, the resulting salary increases were excessive.”
Ward 2 Councilor Maria Giesta on Thursday night implied that Mitchell’s approach to the salary reclassification — first proposed by the administration in the fall, amended and adopted by the council unanimously and signed by the mayor in January — has been motivated by political concerns.
“You now have your answer if the mayor is running for re-election” in November, said Giesta, who lost to Mitchell in a head-to-head final election in 2015. She said she was “very disappointed with the mayor and his rhetoric,” particularly for saying he would “hold his nose” and vote for the salary overhaul plan as the council amended it, and propose changes after the fact.
Ward 6 Councilor Ryan Pereira said his efforts to work with the administration on the salary proposal the last few months were brushed off.
“I am dismissed,” he said. “I am ignored … Every time I deal with the mayor.”
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With Morad calling a swift cadence of “no further action” on Mitchell’s proposed amendments, the council voted unanimously, 10-0, to strike down four of them and 9-1 against a fifth. The lone dissenting vote on the mayor’s amendment to allow a salary review every three years came from Ward 1 Councilor Brad Markey, who had said he thought the measure was worth further consideration.
Included in the rejected amendments was one that would have ended the 10% salary penalty for employees in this group who do not live in New Bedford. The council voted to keep that provision in the personnel rules in 2020 over a veto by Mitchell, who argued then and since then that the penalty makes it harder to attract the best employees.
Also rejected was a provision that would give the mayor’s administration more leeway in negotiating with prospective employees in this group by allowing them to start as high as the third seniority step in the pay scale without first getting the council’s permission.
The only one of the six amendments to survive dealt with adjusting step increase dates for employees who were included in the pay re-classification, who were on the job as of last October. By unanimous voice vote that one was referred to the Ordinance Committee.
Mitchell’s six amendments, first sent to the council last week, restored just about all of the ordinance as the administration originally presented it to the council in October. The plan to redraw the salary schedule for 151 nonunion positions was meant to make city pay for these jobs competitive with a number of other communities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Administration officials argued that New Bedford has been losing people to competing communities in a tight post-pandemic labor market. A study that took more than a year found that salaries for these positions lagged 13% below the median for the communities used in the comparison.
While the salary overhaul was meant to raise pay, most increases were about 5% to 10%. The council adopted amendments that had the effect of increasing a small number of salaries 35% to 60% and well above the median pay for comparable positions in other communities. After hearing from constituents riled up by reports of the highest pay raises, the council in their meeting on Jan. 12, scaled back the highest increases to about 25% and adopted the ordinance.
Mitchell’s amendments went further. He identified 20 positions that the council bumped up two pay grades or more above the administration’s original proposal and set 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 — back to the level proposed by the administration when the plan was first unveiled in October.
Mitchell had made clear as the council fashioned its version of the salary proposal in November and December that he was not happy with how it was taking shape. Still, out of a sense of urgency about New Bedford’s disadvantage in hiring, he said he would vote to approve the amended plan, then submit changes after.
Last Friday, a day after he first presented the six amendments to the council, Mitchell said in an interview that he was following up on what he said he would do.
“I signed it because we had to get on the books as much of the original proposal as possible,” Mitchell said, noting the immediate need for new hiring. “We need reinforcements.”
He added that “what the council did was arbitrary.”
That kind of talk did not sit well with At-large Councilor Brian Gomes, who rose twice at the meeting Thursday night to slam Mitchell.
“Mr. Mayor, I haven’t understood what you’ve been doing for a while,” said Gomes. “I’m angry, I’m damn angry at the mayor … We’ve been taking a lot of stuff from upstairs. Mr. Mayor, you’re called out tonight. I hope we get a response, not crickets.”
Email Arthur Hirsch at email@example.com.
NOT ONE ADULT IN THE ROOM.
The majority of city councilors are the people who look down on the tax payers, there shouldn’t even be a city council, the elected mayor should be responsible for all decisions in New Bedford, and these city councilors are just like the Democrats in Congress who don’t speak for the people, instead they simply object to everything the mayor does whether it’s in the best interest of the city or not!
Not one position in the city of New Bedford deserves a 25% pay raise, but the city council is granting them anyway, and when services must be cut because taxes cannot be raised astronomically, these city councilors won’t accept the blame for their repeated poor decisions!
A disgusted property tax payer.
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