Tacoma voters to decide whether to extend mayoral term limits

In 1973, voters decided to limit how long Tacoma council members and the mayor could serve in office. Since then, people elected mayor or council member have been able to remain in one or both offices no more than 10 consecutive years.

This fall, voters could extend, but not eliminate, that limit with a proposed change to the city charter.

Amendment 8 would allow someone who has already served 10 consecutive years on the council to then serve two full terms — eight years — as mayor. It is one of 12 amendments that the City Council placed on the ballot as part of the once-a-decade charter review process.

This is not the first time Tacomans have had the opportunity to change or abandon the city’s 40-year-old term limits. In 2008, 52 percent of Tacoma voters defeated a proposal to eliminate city term limits altogether.

Mayor Marilyn Strickland, who proposed Amendment 8, says it is different.

“This simply gives more council members the opportunity to run for mayor,” she said.

Strickland won’t benefit if voters pass the amendment because she is already serving her second full term as mayor. But she said the extra terms would give a future council member-turned-mayor the opportunity to see a project through to completion, and to have a continuity of vision at City Hall.

“In many ways, having had this job now, a lot of what you do is build upon what your predecessor did,” Strickland said.

Strickland says the amendment does not extend city term limits for all council members, just those who later decide to run for mayor and are elected by voters.

But the current system is just fine with former Mayor Harold Moss, who said he had his opportunity on the council because term limits forced turnover of elected officials.

“I feel very, very strongly that the rotation of fresh blood and fresh opportunities outweigh the easy incumbency to remain on the job,” he said. Moss said he served his time “and then it was my turn to get out of the way, because there are people coming up behind us who will serve well.”

If voters approve the amendment, not all council members would benefit, Councilwoman Victoria Woodards said. Only one person can serve as mayor at a time.

“I think that offering citizens an opportunity to choose someone who’s been a council member for eight years to be their next mayor is an opportunity they should be able to have,” said Woodards, who could choose to run for mayor if the charter amendment passes. Under the current charter, she will be term-limited off the council in 2017.

State Rep. Laurie Jinkins, a Tacoma Democrat who was chairwoman of the city’s charter review committee a decade ago, said elections are the only term limits government needs. She said legislators from states with term limits often don’t have enough longevity to build solid knowledge of complex policy or the clout to change it.

“It creates a real unbalance of power between the administrative branch and the legislative branch of government,” she said.

Jinkins’ 2004 committee did not suggest revisions to the term limits for council and mayor, nor did this year’s appointed charter review committee.

Sherry Bockwinkel, a longtime term limits supporter who wrote a statement against Amendment 8 for the voters pamphlet, said Tacoma has had “all kinds of mayors” since voters created term limits for city elected positions.

“Ten years is plenty of time on the council to get the job done. Eighteen is a career,” she said. “The only people I know that want to extend the term limits are politicians.”