The Monroe City Council approved an ordinance repealing term limits restrictions at last Tuesday’s meeting, with Councilmembers Kirk Scarboro and Jim Kamp dissenting.
“I just want to say, I do believe that because it (term limits) was voted in that we should respect that vote,” said resident Linda Carlston during public comment at the Feb. 21 meeting.
Carlston said she firmly stands by her perspective that the council should uphold public opinion on the issue. Roughly 76 percent of those participating in a 2011 advisory vote preferred the restrictions. The council then accepted their say the following January.
Under the adopted code, public officials could only hold two terms, and spend no more than eight years in office unless they were appointed to a vacated seat, holding the position for less than a year. Couniclmembers Kevin Hanford and Patsy Cudaback would have been ineligible to run again in the 2017 general election; they would have had to wait eight years before campaigning again. Hanford moved to approve the ordinance Tuesday, and Cudaback seconded the motion.
Last October, the council’s two-year at-large position — held by Scarboro — was changed to a four-year position to align with state law.
Cudaback originally brought up the idea to repeal term limits altogether in response to the recent code revision. She said rotation in office is useful to prevent entrenchment, however, limits are not necessary at a local level, as historically no one has spent too long in office in Monroe.
The council has since spent hours discussing the topic, and held two public hearings. Roughly a dozen residents attended those meetings, and their opinions were close to evenly split.
Councilmembers have also discussed what it would take to put another advisory vote on the ballot.
To put out the question again would cost anywhere between $3-$12 per registered voter, or $24,000 to $96,000, depending on the type of election; a special election would be more costly.
Cudaback has also said the vote in 2011 was not necessarily telling. Only 3,431 of the city’s 6,817 registered voters participated in the advisory vote. Former Councilmember Kurt Goering said more voters participated in the advisory vote than weighed in on the 2015 races for councilmembers Scarboro, Kamp and Ed Davis.
Carlston said the system is set up to account for those who did participate. “I don’t think it’s fair to say” the council can ignore the voices of those who did vote, she said.
Gamble said previously voters may be influenced by problems that are more prominent in government at the federal level. He said he is convinced “you could put it (term limits) on any advisory ballot here until the end of time, and it’s going to pass because we have a larger problem in politics, period.”
According to an analysis conducted by city staff, the majority of 200 cities in Washington have moved away from term limits in recent years.
Gamble has also argued it is generally a challenge to get people to run for local seats. Hanford said previously he believes term limits hamper qualified people from entering office. He said he has acquired crucial experience by staying in the seat for a few years.
Resident Erin Angus-Snapka said she believes that term limits don’t work. She said the better decision may be to not repeal the restrictions outright, but to add on the option for elected officials to finish out a third term, or up to 12 years.
Kamp was the only councilmember that spoke prior to the vote Tuesday. He said he appreciated the concerns from the members of the public that came out to speak at the meeting.
However, “the council has chosen to ignore it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. I think they should pay more attention to how voters are being addressed, and I don’t feel this is the correct direction.”
Councilmember Jeff Rasmussen was absent.
The ordinance will be effective April 27.