Monday, June 6, 2011

Does Richardson Need Term Limits?

If you said to yourself, doesn't Richardson already have term limits, then congratulations. It was a trick question. The Richardson City Charter was amended in 2007 to include term limits for City Council members.

3.01 (b). "No person elected or appointed to the city council at the May 2009 city officer election or thereafter, shall serve as a member of the city council in any place for more than six (6) consecutive terms until at least one full term shall have elapsed from the expiration of such person's last term of office."

So, why would I even raise this question? The answer, after the jump.

There are two reasons why term limits are an issue again. First, some candidates for City Council in the 2011 election made it an issue. They didn't specify exactly why the city charter's term limits are unsatisfactory, one saying only that he wanted "real" term limits. Second, all of the candidates expressed some level of support for a city charter review commission. If that comes to pass, changes to the current term limits are certainly to be on the table for discussion.

I can see three possible lines of attack on the current term limits:

  • The current limit of 12 years is too long.

    I suppose if you don't like the current council members, 12 years is too long to contemplate having them around. If you like them, any arbitrary term limit seems like a waste of a good civic resource. In general, the shorter the term limits, the more power you grant to the City Manager and city staff, as they will have the experience that the constantly turning over City Council won't have. If you prefer the balance of power on the side of the elected officials, you are probably opposed to term limits.

  • The current limit starts the clock in 2009.

    This has an impact only on council members elected before 2009, of whom there are only two left: Bob Townsend and Steve Mitchell. Do we really want to get into a fight to pass a new ordinance that would be rightly seen as targeting two specific individuals? Besides making rule changes apply only going forward, not retroactively, is standard procedure. The Twenty-second Amendment to the US Constitution, establishing presidential term limits, carved out this exception for the sitting President: "But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress." This turned out to be moot anyway, as Harry Truman chose not to seek re-election for what would have been his third term. It's quite possible that this will turn out to be moot in Richardson's case as well.

  • The wording of the ordinance is ambiguous and may contain a loophole.

    Some have suggested that the qualifier on term limits "in any place" could be interpreted as allowing a council member to extend his time on the City Council just by choosing to run in a different place when his term limit expires. IANAL, but I doubt that the courts would interpret the ordinance in a way to allow such a loophole. I wouldn't revise the charter just for this, but if we're in there mucking with the charter anyway, I guess we could tighten up the wording to eliminate this fear.

All things considered, if change is necessary, I would rather see the term limits relaxed rather than tightened. But I prefer leaving the current 12 year term limits alone.

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1 comment:

Nathan Morgan said...

The potential for crony government activity increases directly proportional to the length of time in office. This is true of both elected officials and public employees. Richardson has a long history of this culture as a direct result of public servants who have been in office too long. Those loyalists who benefit from this small town mentality will be the first to stand up in its defence when challenged. It is relatively easy to continue the process in a community the size of Richardson. The unfortunate result is that perpetual behaviors often lay waste to the dynamics of new innovations that feed a thriving economy. It is safe to say that Richardson has become mired in old ideas while neighboring communities having vibrant new blood are out running us. The nostalgia of tradition is for times gone by. It's time to move into the 21st century.