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Political Notebook: Opinions on council term limits varied

Some said the current three-term limit for County Council members is working fine. Others said they don't like term limits at all. And a few said they would like to see the limit lowered.

Encouraging the community to have a conversation about term limits is what council member Calvin Ball, a Columbia Democrat, said he was trying to do in proposing a charter amendment to change the limit of four-year terms council members can serve from three to four.

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While the community conversation was started at a public hearing June 18, there was no clear sign about what would happen to Ball's proposal if it were posed as a question on the November ballot. Because it's a charter amendment, the term limit change, if passed by the council, must receive voter approval before it would take effect.

Though the nine who voiced their opinions is a small sampling, their varied opinions raise the question of what would happen if voters were asked to answer "yes" or "no" regarding the proposed four-term limit.

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The only person at the hearing to give Ball's proposal any support was Alice Giles, co-president of the League of Women Voters. Giles said the league, which has always been opposed to term limits, sees the charter amendment "as a step in the right direction and support(s) it for that reason."

Columbia resident Alan Klein, who said he is opposed to term limits, said he sees a problem with Ball's proposal in that it would allow the current council members to run for a fourth term. Klein told the council they should add language that would exempt themselves "so you are not seen as feathering your own nests."

More directly, Ed Priola, a Columbia resident who unsuccessfully ran for a District 13 state delegate seat in 2010, called Ball's proposal "self serving" and said he would lead the movement to reduce the limit to two terms.

Russ Swatek, also a Columbia resident, said he supports term limits because they help offset the incumbent advantage.

"It's not that (incumbents) are bad people, but we need to make room for new blood," he said.

Swatek, who served one two-year term on the Columbia Association Board of Directors, said he's not a fan of Ball's proposal, but he supports letting people have a vote.

"I'm not really opposed to you putting this on the ballot for the populous to vote on," he said.

Ellicott City resident Rosalyn Williams said longer terms raise the "barrier to entry" for new candidates as incumbents generally have the advantage because of name recognition and campaign cash.

"I feel that three terms or 12 years is a fair balance between protecting citizens best interest and allowing council members to serve for an extended periods," she said.

Woodbine resident Theodore Mariani agreed: "The re-election of the incumbent is going to be enhanced by increasing the term limit from three to four."

Two terms is enough

North Laurel resident Stuart Kohn said he believes two terms is good enough.

"If it's good enough for the county exec, it's good enough for me," he said, asking if any other counties in the country have a four-term limit for their councils.

Brian Meshkin, a member of the Howard County Board of Education, also testified against Ball's proposal, noting he doesn't see a need to increase the limit.

"We live in Howard County ... Surely there are plenty of people who are qualified to serve on the County Council or any other elected office for that matter," Meshkin said.

Meshkin said he supports term limits for every elected office, even the one in which he serves, as a way to maintain "good government accountability and balanced representation."

Ball asked Meshkin about what steps he's taken to promote term limits for the school board.

Meshkin said he hasn't personally done anything, other than pledge to limit his own service to two terms, as instituting term limits for the Board of Education would require a change to state law.

Some local political observers have speculated that Meshkin plans to run for County Council one day. His self-imposed term limit means he would have to leave the Board of Education in 2018, the same year current council members would have to leave their office under the current three-term limit.

Ball's term limit proposal is just one of several charter amendments the council is considering this month. The other seven were recommendations from the Charter Review Commission. A charter amendment proposed by council member Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican, to limit the circumstances under which the county can exercise its power of eminent domain has been tabled since last fall.

The council is expected to discuss the proposed charter amendments at its June 25 work session, being held at 4:30 p.m., and vote on them July 2 at 7:30 p.m. Both meetings will be held in the George Howard building in Ellicott City.

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