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For term limits, the question is, 'How long?' Arundel voters can pick plan


In this age of voter disgust with politicians and government, support for term limits has become the politically correct position -- even for incumbents on the Anne Arundel County Council.

Faced with Question C on the Nov. 3 ballot, a measure that would retroactively limit council members to two consecutive four-year terms -- forcing out of office current council members Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis; Virginia P. Clagett, D-West River; and David G. Boschert, D-Crownsville -- the council introduced its own measure.

The council's version, Question B, mandates that members can serve no more than three consecutive terms. But it would not count the time that any sitting council member already has served.

If both term limit measures pass, the one with the most votes would become law.

For Robert C. Schaeffer, president of the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association, the anti-tax group that sponsored Question C as a companion to a proposed property tax cap, the council's measure smacks of blatant self-interest.

"While they have endorsed the concept of term limits, they are not willing to limit their own terms. This is absolute hypocrisy," Mr. Schaefer said.

But Mr. Boschert, the council chairman who is the chief sponsor of Question B, said three terms are necessary to preserve continuity in county government. He noted that the county executive is already limited to two terms in the charter, and "the executive branch and the legislative branch were never supposed to be elected for the same amount of time."

Mr. Schaeffer, however, countered that term limits are needed because "government has become really the enemy of the people.

"We now have a ruling class of people who are the people who are in government, and they are as corrupt and as ignoble as any group of rulers in history has ever been," he said.

What the "citizen taxpayers" must do is to take government back into their own hands, force it to become smaller by reducing spending and get it out of people's lives, he said.

One part of Mr. Schaefer's strategy is the tax cap -- Question D on the ballot -- which would limit the county's growth in property tax revenue to 4.5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

But because the current incumbents are fundamentally incapable of changing the system of bigger government, they must be forced out of office, he said.

"The people who are in government are incapable psychologically of changing the system because the system has made them who they are," Mr. Schaefer said.

Most members of the council agree that their terms should be limited. But they also side with Mr. Boschert's argument that the limit should be three terms, to give members a chance to gain some expertise.

"I feel the councilmen will not have enough information behind them, will not have enough expertise behind them" with fewer terms, said Councilman George F. Bachman, D-Linthicum. "I think it takes you a little while to get your feet on the ground."

Ms. Lamb said she also supports the concept of term limits.

"You get insulated when you're in public office too long in one seat," she said. But she, too, supports the council's version, because three terms are necessary to provide one with a "historic perspective."

Councilwoman Diane R. Evans, R-Arnold, agreed the two-term limit is "too restrictive," but a three-term limit "provides a steady supply of council members who are energetic, enthusiastic and in touch with what is going on."

But Councilman Edward Middlebrooks, D-Severn, said he thinks two terms is enough.

"I think that's enough time. If you have an agenda, you ought to be able to accomplish that agenda [in two terms]," he said.

Interestingly, County Executive Robert R. Neall, whose own term is limited, opposes both measures on principle.

"I've always felt that democracy requires people to exercise their responsibility," Mr. Neall said. "In many ways, term limits are a lot like tax caps. Something happens whether you want it to or not. And I think that's unfortunate, because an active and informed electorate can show them the door when necessary, or keep them on if they deserve it.

"I just think every time you do something like this and take something away from the people, democracy suffers," Mr. Neall said.

Councilman Carl G. Holland pointed to his own election, as a Republican in a heavily Democratic district, as an example that voters who want a change can achieve it at the ballot box.

"[The voters] made the decision that my predecessor had to leave," Mr. Holland said.

Although he personally opposes term limits, Mr. Holland said he would support whatever the voters decide. But the result, he warned, might not be pleasant, especially if several members leave the council at the same time.

"I believe it's probably going to cause some heartache," he said. "And it could cause real havoc."

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