Politics & Government

Proposed charter amendment could trim term limits for Tacoma’s elected officials

Members of Save Tacoma Water file a petition for a city charter amendment at the Tacoma city clerk’s office.
Members of Save Tacoma Water file a petition for a city charter amendment at the Tacoma city clerk’s office.

A water protection activist group has filed a charter amendment petition to reduce the city of Tacoma’s term limits and prevent elected officials from taking brief breaks from office to reset the clock.

Save Tacoma Water filed the proposed amendment Wednesday with the city clerk. It would set term limits of eight consecutive years — two four-year terms — for City Council members and the mayor. Council members and mayors would have to take an eight-year break before running again, if the amendment passes.

The city’s current term limits law prohibits anyone from serving more than 10 years in a row in the mayor and council position. Once the decade is up, a council member or mayor can run for election again, provided they spend any time out of office.

“Any elected official can literally resign the hour before they file — who’s to say one year, one hour, one day?” said Sherry Bockwinkel, a founder of Save Tacoma Water. “Where is the break in service? It’s not defined in our charter.”

Save Tacoma Water’s petition needs the valid signatures of 12,794 Tacoma voters to make it onto November’s ballot, according to acting city attorney Bill Fosbre.

Bockwinkel contends the amendment would have ramifications for former councilwoman Victoria Woodards, who gave up her council seat in December with a year left in her second term to run for mayor. If Woodards is elected and the charter amendment passes, it would prevent her from seeking a second mayoral term, Bockwinkel said.

City legal staff members said they are researching the issue and what effect it would have, if any, on this year’s mayoral race.

In a statement, Woodards said she welcomes citizen lawmaking.

“I fully support and encourage the right of the people to use the initiative and referendum process as a check on our government,” Woodards said.

Tacoma’s term limits law dates back to 1973.

In 2014, Tacoma voters defeated a proposed charter amendment that would have allowed council members who have served two terms on the City Council to also serve two terms — eight years — as mayor.


Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud