NEW BEDFORD (WBSM) — The New Bedford City Council is up in arms about a proposed contract between the City of New Bedford and the operators of the Fort Taber/Fort Rodman Military Museum, which calls for the museum to pay $32,000 in annual rent for the city-owned building that houses it as well as provides the City the right to sell or destroy any items contained within the museum should that rent not be paid.

However, the councilors may not have read the fine print – or in this case, the regular-sized print.

“The City hasn’t made any changes to the fee agreement with the military museum,” the City said in a statement sent to WBSM.

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What the City Councilors Said About the Military Museum

A motion was submitted by Councilors Joe Lopes, Brian Gomes, Ryan Pereira and Linda Morad at last Thursday’s council meeting requesting that the Mitchell Administration, the Department of Parks, Recreation and Beaches and the New Bedford Park Board “waive in its entirety the proposed yearly rental fee to the Fort Taber/Fort Rodman Historical Association Inc., for The Fort Taber/Fort Rodman Military Museum.”

The motion also requests that the agreement between the City and the museum be amended so as “to strike the language that provides the City of New Bedford with the ability to sell or destroy any of the items housed at said entity.” The concern is that should the City take over the building, all of the donated or on-loan items in the museum, some of them virtually priceless, would be lost.

The council passed the motion unanimously, but not before some strong comments from the councilors who filed the motion.

Councilor Lopes pointed out that the museum only brings in about $5,000 to $6,000 per year in donations and memberships, and an expense report placed on file during the meeting suggests the all-volunteer museum has annual costs of approximately $14,410 per year, so it is already operating from a deficit when it comes to paying for custodial service, gardening services and heat.

The Historical Association also “pays for all cleaning supplies and paper products such as paper towels, hand soap and toilet paper, and cleaning supplies for the restrooms,” according to the report, as well as supplying “glass cleaner and paper towels for the walls and cabinets, vacuum cleaners, mops, soap and was for the floors.”

Lopes compared the Military Museum to the Zeiterion Theater, which receives money from the City of New Bedford to operate within a City-owned building.

“We pay the Z to manage an entertainment venue where people go to enjoy themselves,” he said. “We pay the Z to manage a City-owned asset, we provide them countless dollars, millions of dollars to enhance the Zeiterion.”

“The museum is also in a City-owned building, but has to pay its own way,” he said. “Whatever they need, they go above and beyond by raising a small pittance of money they raise through donations and memberships.”

READ MORE: The Military Museum's 20 Years of Honoring Area Veterans

He also pointed to the Zeiterion recently getting a 99-year lease with the City, while the Military Museum has to renew its lease annually. Lopes said he wants the museum to receive “a long term lease for free, not one year for free.”

“Somebody realized the contract that the Military Museum had had expired, and they had to do it again, so this is an opportunity to gouge $32,000 from a community group that is benefiting the community," he said.

Councilor Gomes pointed to a similar situation in 2018 when the Mitchell Administration waived the $250 a month rental fee it had started charging the museum in 2017.

“We’ve done this before, and we fought them, and we won,” he said.

Gomes also addressed the suspicion that this $32,000 fee was because the City had an ulterior motive of taking over the waterfront building for a different use.

“We’re not taking any money from them, and if you’re looking for the building, you’re not getting the building,” he said. “If anything, you’re putting an extension on that building because there are more artifacts.”

Councilor Pereira said it “doesn’t make any sense” to pay the Zeiterion group to run that building but then charge the Military Museum for the use of theirs.

“It’s trying to just grab money and hope no one gets caught,” he said.

Councilor Morad said “the hypocrisy of this is just stunning.”

WATCH: See the City Council Discussing This Issue (Starts at 33:30)

What the Agreement Between the City and the Museum Actually Says

There’s just one problem with the motion: the rental fee is already being waived.

According to Section 6 of the License Agreement sent from the City to the Fort Taber/Fort Rodman Historical Association, “the Licensee will be responsible for utilities, cleaning, and routine maintenance in lieu of monthly payment upon approval by the Board of Park Commissioners.”

READ MORE: The Rental Agreement Between the City and the Military Museum

In other words, as long as the volunteers pay the expenses of keeping up the property, as they have been doing for years, the rental fee will be waived. As the City pointed out in its statement to WBSM, there’s no change to the fee agreement from recent years, presumably going back to that 2018 agreement.

As for the portion of the agreement that allows the City to sell or destroy any property left behind if it does take over the building, that’s not anything different from the standard landlord-tenant agreement in the case that the renter leaves anything behind.

“That is boilerplate language which is extremely common in any landlord-tenant agreement,” the City said in its statement. “The City will obviously not be auctioning or destroying those pieces of New Bedford history.”

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