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Editorial: Longer term limits next best thing to no limits at all

Editorial: Longer term limits next best thing to no limits at all

County Councilman Calvin Ball has come up with an intriguing idea: Change the number of four-year terms that council members are allowed to serve from three to four — or, in other words, limit council members to 16 years on the council rather than 12.

Ball's proposal must first be approved by the five-member council, and, if that happens, by the voters in November.

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Frankly, we don't quite understand Ball's reasoning for raising the limit, which was instituted by the voters in 1992. He talks of aligning the council terms with that of the county executive, who is limited to a total of eight years. But why?

Rather than argue that point, however, we have another idea: How about doing away with term limits altogether?

We've heard all the arguments in favor of term limits, of course, as has anyone who's followed the national and local debate that swept the 1990s, when term limits were sold as the answer to out-of-touch, career politicians. We realize proponents say term limits make for more competitive elections, introduce new ideas and fresh thinking, break ties to special interests. We realize all that, but don't think it's enough to justify the limits.

Term limits arbitrarily kick out qualified, experienced public officials, even as they increase the power of (nonelected) staff people and lobbyists, both of which novice office-holders must rely on more than more experienced office-holders. In addition, they set up a four-year lame duck term when the council members know they won't have to answer to anyone — unless they plan to run for higher office and become the "career politicians" that term limits are meant to get rid of.

And then, of course, there's the argument that trumps all others, that term limits deprive voters of the power that should be theirs: the power to choose their elected officials.

Still, we concede that voters tend to favor term limits, and doing away with them entirely would be difficult. With that in mind, we suppose lengthening the terms allowed, as Ball has proposed, is the next best thing. At the least, it will spark a debate on a policy that should be revisited.

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