The charter amendment on term limits, said charter revision committee chairman Jim Riviere, is just a housekeeping matter.
Marco Island voters will be asked to decide on seven proposed amendments to the city’s charter, including term limits for city councilors, in a January mail-in referendum. Voters will also choose three city councilors from among the four candidates.
Marco’s charter already provides term limits for city council members, allowing for two consecutive four-year terms. The proposed revision seeks to remove any ambiguity about councilors leaving office, sitting out, and then coming back to start the cycle again, said Riviere.
“The effect of the amendment is to clarify” the original intent, he said. “No councilman can serve more than eight years total in a lifetime,” consecutive terms or not.
“The whole group felt this was something we wanted to have in the charter,” said committee member Joe Granda. “People perpetuate themselves. Their number one goal is to get re-elected. They forget who brought them there. By having term limits, they can’t become career politicians.”
The charter review committee, Riviere said, had “pretty unanimous consent. If we debated about anything, it was how to make it as clear as possible.”
Where some confusion does creep in is at the end of the proposed amendment.
“Current or former Council Members are prohibited from serving more than eight years in office during their lifetime, except where Council member terms were extended by change in the election date,” reads the ballot question. “Shall the above-described Charter Amendment be adopted?”
The “except where terms were extended” language was necessary because the next set of city councilors will serve longer terms, said Granda.
“The electoral system is going to change after this election,” he said. We are electing people in January, to take over in March. After this, in 2012, elections will be held in November, matching the national elections.” So the months from March to November will be added to the council terms at that time, and the one-time exception is to be sure no council members would be technically term-limited out of office months before elections are scheduled.
“We’re trying not to have special elections,” said councilman Bill Trotter. “Taking office will be moved from March to November. So for instance, I will have served eight and a half years.”
Trotter says he is in favor of term limits in general, and supports the proposed amendment.
“Two terms is enough for someone to be on the City Council. In many cases, we have people not even running for a second term. I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘Gee, I wish I could run for another term.’ And you want to keep some fresh views coming in,” he said.
Not everyone believes term limits are the best answer.
“I’m not in favor of the amendment. I’d like to see a two-year term with no time limits,” said councilman Ted Forcht, who is running for re-election in January. “I’ve always been a strong believer in letting the people be heard. If you’re voted on every two years, like a congressman, you’re much more responsive.” Forcht said he had expressed his views to the charter review committee.
The proposed amendment is not a concern for him personally, said Forcht. “No, it will not affect me. I’m still running for a four-year term. I would not re-run – I would keep to the wishes of the people.”
“We looked at two and three year terms,” said Trotter. We thought, after two years, you finally get comfortable, and you’re up for re-election. You spend all your time running for office.”
Come January 26, the fate of the amendments will be decided by the voters of Marco Island, or at least by those who take the time to mail in their ballots.