Prince George's County to revisit term limits on November ballot

This November, Prince George's County voters will again have the opportunity to decide whether council members and the county executive should be allowed to serve more than two consecutive terms in office.

All nine County Council members voted July 23 to propose an amendment to the county's charter that would extend the time in office possible for council members and the executive from two to three consecutive four-year terms.

While term limits have been on the books in Howard County, in neighboring Montgomery County, neither the executive nor members of council are subject to term limits.

The ballot measure was proposed by Prince George's County's Charter Review Commission, a body appointed every four years by the council and county executive to take a fresh look at the county's charter. In its most recent report, the commission recommended extending term limits as an intermediary step to doing away with them altogether because the group thought they have outlived their usefulness and put the county at a strategic disadvantage, according to District 1 Council member Mary Lehman.

Lehman, who represents Laurel, said she voted to bring the charter question to the voters because she thinks an extra term could be helpful.

"Eight years does go by fast and I think there's an argument to be made that 12 years would allow more time to address some complex issues like land use, transportation and housing," she said. "It's a big, metropolitan region we have here with a lot of challenges."

Lehman added, however, she does not support a total elimination of term limits. She said she remembers when she was a child hearing her mother, a Prince George's County activist, complaining about career politicians.

"I don't want to see people serve 20 and 30 years," she said. "I don't want to serve 20 or 30 years."

Lehman said, "it's way too early to say whether I would even run again" if the measure passes.

This year's charter question is the third time in recent years term limits have been under scrutiny in the county.

In 1992, voters approved a citizen-led initiative to require term limits in the county in the midst of a strong, nationwide backlash against incumbents that year.

Then, in 2000, the council voted to revisit the issue, placing a measure on the ballot to repeal term limits. The effort failed by a wide margin.

Former Council member Tom Dernoga was part of the 1992 citizens' group effort that got the successful term limits question on the ballot. He represented District 1 from 2002 to 2010 after being elected to replace Walter H. "Mike" Maloney, who died in office.

In Dernoga's view, term limits today are as important as ever.

"Prince George's County is a one-party system, so therefore you get very entrenched incumbents who it's literally impossible to unseat," Dernoga said.

He rejected the argument that the county was at a disadvantage compared with its neighbors.

"It's all the same arguments that we've heard from Day 1; nothing's changed," he said. "And what I would say is one of the county's most serious problems is the lack of government officials who have a sense of urgency. So when I hear elected officials say eight years isn't enough, I have things I have to finish – giving them another eight years is going to continue the lack of focus."

Voters will have a chance to decide for themselves in the Nov. 4 general election.

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