Tacoma voters will decide whether to terminate term limits. A sharply divided City Council voted 5-4 Tuesday in favor of a resolution that will ask voters this fall whether the city should eliminate the rule limiting time on the council to 10 consecutive years.
Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg pushed the measure, arguing that the job of a City Council member has become more complex and requires a longer time to see issues through to fruition.
But Ladenburg said Tuesday that even though she is philosophically opposed to term limits, she was mainly interested in putting the issue on the ballot so voters could decide.
“I just want to give them a chance,” said Ladenburg, adding she wanted it on the November ballot because she expects a large voter turnout.
Mayor Bill Baarsma adamantly opposed the resolution, but not because he differed with Ladenburg on the issue. Rather, Baarsma objected to the way in which she pushed it.
Proposed changes in the City Charter – which Baarsma called the city’s constitution – should come during one of the regular charter reviews, he said, and not through a resolution put forward by a council member.
Baarsma served on the charter review commission that in the early 1970s led to the current term limit rule, and argued against term limits at the time.
Baarsma also objected to spending about $100,000 to place the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Ladenburg received support from council members Jake Fey, Rick Talbert, Lauren Walker and Spiro Manthou.
Fey said Tacoma’s current term limits hamper the city’s effectiveness in regional bodies such as the Puget Sound Regional Council and Puget Sound Clean Air Agency where officials with the most tenure amass the most power. Cities that don’t have term limits end up with a “disproportionate influence,” Fey said.
Talbert noted that council members were merely voting to put the issue on the ballot, not to eliminate term limits.
“I have faith in the voters,” he said.
Walker said she does not support term limits because of her experience working with “really good elected officials,” and she echoed Talbert’s point that it ultimately will be up to voters to decide.
“We’re not ramming it down anyone’s throat,” Walker said.
In addition to Baarsma, council members Marilyn Strickland, Julie Anderson and Mike Lonergan voted against the resolution.
Strickland offered an amendment to Ladenburg’s resolution proposing to extend the limit on council service to three terms rather than eliminate limits, but it failed to pass. She argued that city government benefits from turnover and the new voices and perspectives that it brings.
Lonergan wanted the city to look at other issues, such as providing council members with independent support staff members, before eliminating term limits. Anderson has brought up staff support as an issue for council members to address the increasing workload.
The current term limits were approved by voters in 1973 as part of a package of 19 charter amendments that included creating a system for electing five of the nine council members by districts.
If voters agree to eliminate term limits, current council members would be permitted to run again, according to City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli.
Jason Hagey: 253-597-8542