The Monroe City Council held its second and final public hearing on the topic of term limits last week, subsequently voting down a motion to repeal the city’s eight-year term limit in a 4-1 vote.
The discussion about term limits has been ongoing since the end of October, when the council adopted an ordinance converting its two-year council seat to a four-year position, in alignment with state law. The conversion paved the way for a conversation about the city’s eight-year term limit, because it negatively impacts a councilmember’s ability to maximize their time in office in certain circumstances. Now that the two-year position has been converted to a four-year seat, any councilmember who has achieved a total of six years in service by being elected to the two-year seat before or after serving a four-year term is ineligible for reelection because of the eight-year term limit.
Council discussion ensued over creating an exemption for elected officials who had previously served in the two-year seat or increasing the eight-year term limit to a 12-year term limit like the county. Councilmember Patsy Cudaback took the opportunity to introduce a motion to repeal term limits entirely, based on her belief that long-term entrenchment in Monroe has never been an issue.
The idea to implement term limits was proposed in 2011 by former Monroe City Councilmember Kurt Goering, who provided oral and written testimony during both recent hearings. When the proposal was initially introduced, the city’s process for establishing the new law included a council-initiated advisory vote, in which 2,622 of the 3,431 Monroe voters that participated voted in favor of term limits.
Because of the 76.42 percent approval rate, the ordinance establishing term limits for Monroe’s elected officials was passed in January 2012. In discussion over the past month, councilmembers have stated they are largely not in favor of term limits, but feel bound by the results of the advisory vote.
Councilmember Kevin Hanford advocated for extensive outreach and public process, requesting two public hearings be held.
During the first public hearing on Nov. 15, two people spoke in favor of repealing term limits and one spoke against it. During the hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 6, two people spoke against repealing term limits while one spoke in favor.
Former Monroe Planning Commissioner Dave Demarest sided with Cudaback, stating he didn’t see any need for term limits in Monroe. Residents Ashley Sellers and Linda Carlston favored term limits, citing the results of the advisory vote.
Cudaback defended her motion to repeal the city’s eight-year term limit, stating elections are term limits in her opinion. Over the past 20 years, incumbents have been voted in and out of office on a regular basis, she said, making term limits in Monroe a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Further, she said she doesn’t believe in creating additional barriers to public involvement or hindering a voter’s ability to elect who they want. There needs to be a compelling, data-driven reason to limit a person’s ability to elect an individual to office, Cudaback said.
“We don’t have it in this case,” she said. “The statistics in Monroe do not show that there has ever been an issue with entrenchment in our local government.”
Cudaback brought up arguments raised by Monroe Planning Commissioner and community advocate Bridgette Tuttle, who gave testimony during the first hearing. Tuttle was in agreement with Cudaback that entrenchment isn’t an issue in Monroe, stating term limits are appropriate at the federal level, not at the local level. Cudaback said she really appreciated Tuttle’s comments, which raised a point that Cudaback hadn’t even considered.
“She stated that at the federal level, people leave. They’re in Washington, D.C.; they lose touch with the local residents,” Cudaback said. “We don’t have that here. Everyone that sits up here, we’re still in the community.”
Cudaback challenged the argument that the council needed to keep term limits based solely on the results of the advisory vote. There are times that the council has, in fact, gone against the majority vote, she said, particularly in the case of Initiative 502. Nine out of 12 precincts in Monroe voted in favor of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, Cudaback said, yet she and the rest of council have consistently voted to keep marijuana sales, production and processing out of city limits.
This was based on overarching issues, including the conflict between local and federal law and community concerns, she said.
In the case of term limits, the advisory vote was simply a piece of information to be contemplated in conjunction with other data, she said.
“It’s a part of the data,” Cudaback said. “There’s other data that should be included when we make decisions.”
Councilmembers Jim Kamp and Ed Davis remained staunchly in favor of keeping the term limits based on the results of the advisory vote. Goering and former Mayor Robert Zimmerman both chimed in through email, favoring keeping term limits. Zimmerman’s email called the effort to repeal “one or more councilmember’s attempt to supersede the public’s will with their own, for selfish reasons that can only be speculated.”
He called into question the timing of the public hearings, stating they were “strategically held during the busy holiday season,” during a time when a significant number of residents would be focused on other things. He questioned how the repeal could not be seen as “an act of self-serving arrogance.”
Cudaback said the comment surprised her, coming from somebody that has served as both a councilmember and mayor. Being an elected official is an incredibly tough job, Cudaback said. Because of their decisions, councilmembers face public vitriol and at times blatant confrontation from angry community members, she said. In addition to public scrutiny, the job requires them to be away from their families, for very little monetary compensation, she said.
“I think most people serve up here because they have a servant heart; because they want the chance to be involved in their community and give back,” Cudaback said. “So I don’t see repealing as self-serving arrogance. I think it’s our job to look at all the data.”
Cudaback was the lone assenting vote on the motion to repeal, with Kamp, Davis, Jeff Rasmussen and Kirk Scarboro dissenting. Councilmembers Jason Gamble and Hanford were absent. Upon learning the council’s action, Tuttle said she was disappointed that the decision was made to move forward with the vote, despite two councilmembers being missing, including Gamble, who wasn’t present for either public hearing.
Additionally, Rasmussen was late on Nov. 15, missing the live testimony presented during the first public hearing.
In the past, the council has deferred voting on certain issues until a full council could be present. In the case of the east Monroe rezone, a vote was even rescinded based on the reasoning that the full council needed to be present to vote.
“It’s too bad that a topic as important as term limits would be decided with two councilmembers missing and one of them being gone from both of the public hearings,” Tuttle said. “I would have thought the council would put off the vote in favor of a full council discussion and decision.”