Tacoma City Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg wants to do away with term limits.
The job of serving on the City Council is more complex than ever and requires a longer learning curve, Ladenburg said. As a result, it can be difficult or impossible for council members to see an issue through to completion in the eight or 10 years they can now spend in office.
A resolution going before the City Council on Tuesday would let voters decide this fall whether to eliminate term limits.
The City Charter says no one can serve more than 10 consecutive years as mayor or council member, or any combination thereof. That usually limits council members to two, four-year terms, but it’s possible for someone to serve longer if they are appointed to an unfinished term. Former Councilwoman Sharon McGavick left office at the end of 2003, for example, after originally being appointed to the City Council in March 1994.
Ladenburg was elected to her second term in November 2005. It expires at the end of 2009.
The resolution proposed by Ladenburg would ask voters if they want to repeal that section of the charter and remove term limits entirely.
Ladenburg raised the subject last month and moved quickly to get a resolution in front of the City Council. Time is running out to get the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Other council members showed some interest in the idea when it was discussed at a meeting last month, but they also expressed some concerns.
Councilwoman Julie Anderson cited the ongoing discussion about going from a part-time to a full-time City Council. Anderson said she favored debating that question first before taking up the issue of term limits.
“I don’t want to create a powerful – and toxic – combination of incumbency, a big salary, and endless terms,” Anderson wrote later in response to a post on The News Tribune’s Political Buzz blog. “With that said, I do think that the City Council needs to be better resourced,” she wrote.
“If we want real-world, working adults or busy parents to serve on our Council, then a City Council member should expect a staff assistant (we currently share the City Manager’s interns). Alternatively, make the positions full-time and raise the salary, so candidates don’t need to make the terrible choice between a secure job and serving on the Council.”
The current term limits were approved by voters in 1973 as part of a package of charter changes that included creating a ward system.
Pierce County voters extended term limits on assessor-treasurer and auditor positions from two to three terms in the last election, and the sheriff position will be three terms when it changes from an appointed to elected one this year.
Ladenburg suspects there are enough council votes to pass her resolution.
If they do – and if voters decide to eliminate term limits – the current council members would be permitted to run again, Ladenburg said. The city’s legal advisers looked into the question of whether it would apply to current and future council members and concluded that current council members could take advantage of the change, she said.
“The council seems to be in favor of putting it on the ballot,” Ladenburg said.
After that, “It’s up to the citizens,” she said.
Jason Hagey: 253-597-8542
How to get involved
The Tacoma City Council meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Council Chambers on the first floor of the Municipal Building, 747 Market St.