Time to discuss term limits
February 17, 2013
Paul Menter’s recent article in the Aspen Daily News discusses the wisdom of Jim True authoring an advisory opinion and the potential effects of the mayor serving another four years, this time as a member of the council (neither of which I will comment on). He leaves open the important question sparked by this debate – whether Aspen should place limits on consecutive years of service, as Pitkin County already does. Recognizing that any action is prospective and cannot affect the coming election, I submit that it is time to clarify and set reasonable limits on years of service for Aspen’s elected officials.
The discussion at the council meeting on Jan. 14 and sorry accusations by Torre (reminiscent of the Jack Johnson era) demonstrate the difficulty of divorcing personalities and self-interest from the discussion. Also lacking was any recognition that term limits are not absolutes; what works in one setting is wrong for another. And the simplistic “let the voters decide” logic that was advanced totally ignored term limits already imposed in our state constitution (Article XVIII, Section 11) that are applied to Pitkin County commissioners (charter Section 2.4) and down to the individual limits on elected offices in Aspen (city charter Sections 3.2 and 3.3).
Accepting it as correct for purposes of discussion, True’s analysis is that members of the City Council are distinct from the mayor, such that the existing term limits for each are separate and not cumulative. The specter of a Vladimir Putin-like endless pingponging between two offices is thus possible at our local level. Do we want it? One must reasonably agree that there is significant overlap, and Menter’s analysis points to the potential ills. It could well be that term limits for consecutive service are not appropriate for Aspen, but the relationship here, with any mayor continuously interacting, influencing and voting with members of the City Council, is somewhat unique and deserves pragmatic consideration.
In the spirit of reasoned discussion and on a totally non-partisan basis, I propose the following:
Proposal to amend the charter of the city of Aspen:
The people of Aspen hereby recognize the benefits to the city of experience in public service and also find that the value of experience should be balanced against other public policies. The people hereby find that opportunities for public service should be broad, that public service should be responsive to the people and that such goals are best-served by limiting the number of consecutive years any individual serves as either mayor or councilman. To achieve this result, this section establishes limits on the number of consecutive terms and consecutive years that an individual may serve in such capacities.
Amend the city of Aspen charter to add a new Section 3.1.1:
Section 3.1.1: Term limits for councilmen and mayor:
(a) This section does not limit the total number of terms or years that an individual may serve as a councilman or mayor during his lifetime. No individual shall serve more than two consecutive terms as a councilman, nor more than three consecutive terms as mayor nor more than 10 consecutive years in any combination of the two positions.
(b) Any service as mayor or councilman prior to the effective date of this provision shall be included in applying the limitations on consecutive terms and consecutive years established by this provision.
This proposal clarifies total term limits for those individuals serving as mayor or members of council. It carries forward the state constitution’s term limits for individual offices. The proposal adds a composite limit in terms of consecutive years of service. It does not prohibit a term-limited member of council from running for mayor (for one term). Likewise, it does not prohibit a term-limited mayor from running for City Council (for one term). A 10-year total term provides flexibility for those on council to run after one term for potentially three terms as mayor or a mayor after one term running for potentially two terms as a member of council. Thus, while the length of the total term might be subject to debate, the proposed 10-year term limit offers the most flexibility consistent with constitutionally mandated terms for individual offices.
Comments, please; no hectoring.
Neil B. Siegel