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Is it worth it to just tinker at the edges?

I mostly feel the same way as the Chron about term limits and the proposal from the Term Limits Commission to alter them.

[T]he logic in limiting city officials to three two-year terms, with the necessity for virtually nonstop campaigning during that maximum of six years, has always escaped us. The Chronicle editorially opposed term limits before they passed in a 1991 referendum. We continue to believe they entail needless public cost for staging elections while denying the best officials the opportunity to continue serving the city. The system prevents citizens from exercising the unfettered right to choose their municipal leaders and insinuates they’re not smart enough to reject bad incumbents.


The city charter also creates a potential conundrum. If a majority of the 15-member council became lame ducks after an election, the body could take no votes between November and January, effectively paralyzing the decision-making process. The scenario could arise in 2019 under the commission plan.

That has some council members suggesting staggered four-year terms, but that solution would reinstate the extra election cycle. Even worse, voter turnout would likely decrease sharply in years when the mayor is not running. And if the council alters the commission recommendations, members could be accused of acting in their own political interests.

The goal of extending terms to allow city officials more time to learn on the job and become more effective is laudable. But tinkering with term limits may produce complications as undesirable as our current arrangement.

Council should carefully consider that before putting the recommendations to a public vote.

The agenda item was tagged last week, so Council still has time to take the Chron’s advice. It will be fine by me if they decide to punt on it.

I understand the politics of this. For better or worse, people seem to like the system we have, with two four-year terms being the preferred alternative. I’d still rather see the whole thing scrapped, with some campaign finance reforms added to make it easier to run against incumbents – I believe you could accomplish everything that term limits was supposed to do, and more, without the negative effects, with a better campaign finance system – but that’s not on the table. Second choice for me would simply be allowing for more two-year terms – I could live with capping it at six terms instead of three, but that too is not an option. I just can’t bring myself to be particularly excited about what is up for discussion. I’m going to have to think about how I want to vote on this.

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