The Monroe City Council voted to accept the first reading of an ordinance to repeal restrictions on councilmember term limits, a proposal that has come and gone multiple times in the past several months.

Several councilmembers renewed the debate on March 7, and again last Tuesday, March 14. In 2016, the city council held two public hearings to gauge support of the term limits repeal in 2016, and dedicated hours to discussing the topic. Only a handful of residents turned out to speak on the issue, and opinions from the few were about equally split.

Councilmember Patsy Cudaback initiated the conversation last October, following the adoption of an ordinance that changed the council’s two-year at-large position — held by Councilmember Kirk Scarboro — to a four-year position in alignment with state law.

Under current code adopted in 2012, Cudaback and Kevin Hanford are ineligible to run for reelection in this year’s general election. They will have to wait eight more years until they can try to serve again. No elected official can serve more than eight years in office, unless they were appointed to a vacated seat and served for less than a year.

Roughly 76 percent of residents participating in a 2011 advisory voter preferred the restriction, and the council accepted the outcome, adopting limits that following January.

Hanford said he was new to the council at the time, and voted in favor of term limits. He believes now that he was misinformed. Limits actually end up keeping qualified people from running, he said.

Councilmember Jason Gamble said filling seats in local government is tricky, and voters are enough of a barrier to entrenchment.

Cudaback has maintained her position that term limits are important for preventing entrenchment, but it is not a problem at the local level. Monroe has never had a problem with people staying in office too long, she said.

As previously reported by the Monitor, Cudaback also argues only 3,431 of the 6,817 registered voters in 2011 participated in the advisory vote. Former Councilmember Kurt Goering said previously that was actually more voters than participated in each of the 2015 elections for Jim Kamp, Ed Davis, Scarboro and Gamble.

Gamble said the opinion of voters may be swayed by problems with 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.”

Former Monroe administrator Gene Brazel said city staff conducted analysis of more than 200 Washington cities, and found a majority had moved away from term limits in recent years.

The council looked at a few different options for addressing term limits last Tuesday, including adopting the Snohomish County Council’s policy of allowing for three consecutive terms.

Kamp said he wasn't comfortable repealing term limits before reaching out to the voters again.

He said adopting the county council's code would better suit the situation.

“I know that the people appear honorable, but it just doesn't feel right,” he said. “By using Option 2, do I think we would have gone down a better road, and shown the people that we are really listening?”

It is estimated that sticking the question on the ballot would cost $3-$12 per registered voter, or $24,000-$96,000, depending on the type of election. It would be more expensive in a special election.

The ordinance to repeal term limits will be up for a second reading on Tuesday, March 21. Monroe Mayor Geoffrey Thomas reminded councilmembers that for a repeal to be effective for the next election season, any change in code must be adopted by March 28.

The first reading passed 4-3, with Scarboro, Kamp and Jeff Rasmussen dissenting.