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Baltimore County Council to debate term limits as Catonsville councilman says he will not seek reelection

Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk poses for a photo at the Catonsville Fire Station in Catonsville, MD on Tuesday, November 8, 2016. The Catonsville Fire Station is directly next to the Baltimore County Council Office.
Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk poses for a photo at the Catonsville Fire Station in Catonsville, MD on Tuesday, November 8, 2016. The Catonsville Fire Station is directly next to the Baltimore County Council Office. (Jen Rynda / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Baltimore County voters could choose whether to set a limit of three terms for councilmembers under a proposed County Council bill.

County Councilman Tom Quirk, who said he will not run for a fourth four-year term to represent the southwestern county, proposed the bill, which is co-sponsored by Republican Councilman Todd Crandell.

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“I think three terms is plenty,” the Oella Democrat said of his decision to forgo running for a fourth term.

“It’s good and healthy for the democratic process to have new people come in,” he said.

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County voters would have to approve the change in a referendum during the gubernatorial election next year. If approved, the charter amendment would take effect in 2026 — meaning sitting council members currently serving their third term would be able to run for a fourth term, but would be prohibited from seeking a fifth term after.

The Baltimore County Council will discuss the proposal at their Feb. 23 meeting.

Three of the council’s seven members are serving their third term — Quirk, Democratic County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, of Middle River, and Councilman David Marks, a Republican from Perry Hall.

Marks, whose 2010 campaign platform included setting three-year term limits, proposed a term limit bill as his first piece of legislation in 2012, but the bill was tabled by Democratic council members who held, and continue to hold, a majority.

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Quirk was among council members who voted to table the bill at the time, saying having a seasoned legislative branch balances the powers of the executive.

Bevins was also against the 2012 proposal.

Quirk said his position has changed. Incumbent candidates, he said, have a financial advantage over newcomers seeking office. Each reelection year, Quirk said he raised more money than the year before.

In November, county voters approved a charter amendment that will authorize public financing for local political candidates and create a citizens’ election fund that will match small donations. Candidates for the County Council and county executive may choose to use the public funding starting in 2026.

Marks, who said he is “exploring many options” when asked about running for a fourth term, added that he is unsure of whether he will support Quirk’s bill or not, and is waiting to hear testimony.

Because the referendum would amend the county charter, it must be approved by five council members instead of a simple majority of four.

Howard, Carroll, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties have term limits on local governing bodies. Baltimore City and Harford County do not.

Quirk said he is “fairly confident” he has four votes.

“I think the fifth vote is probable, but nothing’s guaranteed ‘til it’s done,” he said.

During his tenure, Quirk preserved state-owned parkland from development into a private golf course, secured millions in capital funding for district schools and changed zoning laws to bring the $90 million Guinness Open Gate Brewery to Halethorpe.

As chairman of the county’s spending and affordability committee, Quirk recommended the county raise taxes from 2.83% to 3.2%, the first income tax increase in 30 years.

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