Term Limits for Council Members Under Fire
The pros and cons of term limits for members of the County Council was a topic of discussion at Monday's public hearing.
Members of the public debated the finer points of term limits at Monday night’s Howard County Council meeting during a discussion on legislation that would ask voters to change the current council term limits from three 4-year terms to four 4-year terms.
The argument hinged on two issues:
- The belief that informed voters exercising their rights in elections provide the best term limits.
- On the other side, the idea that incumbents hold a significant political advantage over challengers and that term limits bring fresh candidates and ideas to government.
Council member Calvin Ball began discussion of the legislation he submitted by saying that two-thirds of Maryland jurisdictions don’t use term limits for their council.
The legislation, if approved, would put the issue before voters as a charter amendment.
Alice Giles, the co-president of the League of Women Voters of Howard County, said her group supported Ball’s legislation during the meeting at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.
“We oppose term limits,” said Giles. “Elections provide the best and only necessary term limits.”
On the other side, there were those that believed limiting the time of public officials in office provided more access to government and a way to bring new ideas and opinions into government.
“Term limits expand freedom, encourage more candidates to run for office and create more equality in the halls of government,” said school board member Brian Meshkin.
He said incumbents have a significant advantage over challengers in elections because they have access to multiple outlets of free publicity while serving.
He added that he has personally limited himself to serving only two terms on the school board, even though there are no mandated term limits.
Alan Klein, of Columbia, said he supported Ball’s legislation, but asked the council members to pledge not to run in 2018, if it’s passed, to avoid the possibility that it might look like the council members are legislating benefits to themselves.
“There’s no reason why local elected officials should be limited by term,” said Klein. “That’s what informed voters are for. But I hope that each of you will pledge not to run for a new term in 2018.”
This legislation comes at a time with all five of the council members facing the prospect of being forced out of office in 2018 by term limits, if re-elected in 2014, as they all began their first terms in 2006.
The council term limits were put in place by a charter amendment approved by voters in 1992.
In an informal poll on Columbia Patch at the end of May, readers voted 58 percent in favor of the current structure of three 4-year terms on the council. Twenty-nine percent supported four 4-year terms, while 8 percent believed there should be no term limits.
In 2011, Council members Courtney Watson and Greg Fox, along with Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, said they supported the current three-term limit, according to an article in the Baltimore Sun. However, Mary Kay Sigaty said that she doesn’t favor term limits, according to the article.
Fox, the council’s only Republican, pointed out that the council handled its duties in 2006, despite being made up of all new members, according to the article.
What's your opinion on term limits for the County Council?