Term-limit feud appears headed to Basalt ballot
September 5, 2002
Basalt voters will apparently be asked in a special ballot question to settle a dispute that bubbled up this summer over term limits for Town Council members.
Supporters and critics of term limits advised a commission last night to divorce the controversial issue from a proposed Home Rule Charter. That charter, which is going before the town’s voters in November, will dictate how Basalt is governed. It would “customize” the local government, which is now dictated solely by state statute.
The draft version of the charter proposes that term limits be eliminated. That provision was approved by the commission by a 8-1 vote.
It has proved to be about the only controversial step the commission took in its outline of how Basalt should be governed.
Term limits were approved statewide in November 1994. Basalt residents voted by an overwhelming margin in April 1996 to retain limits of two terms of four years each. Term limits were supported by nearly 70 percent of voters in that election.
Bob Smith of Basalt noted that the Home Rule Charter Commission’s stated goal was to avoid drastic changes in the way the town is governed. “To me, no term limits is a drastic change,” he said.
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Smith said he didn’t want any vote on term limits. He said Basalt voters have spoken and the issue shouldn’t be revisited. After all, he said, if the president of the United States is limited to two terms in office, the limit should work for Basalt as well.
“If they can’t get it done in eight years, well, we need to get someone else,” Smith said.
Technically a person could hold elected office for more than eight years. A person appointed to fill out a term could still run for two terms of four years, or serve up to 10 years.
Basaltine Karen Alleger agreed that the Home Rule Charter shouldn’t be the forum to settle term limits. She suggested the controversial issue could sink the otherwise worthy charter in the November election.
“If term limits are included, I’ll probably vote against this charter,” she said.
It wasn’t only term-limit supporters who felt the issue should be resolved in a separate question.
“This is a thorn in enough people’s sides that we need to get it out of there,” said Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt, a term-limit foe. “It can be perceived as some degree of trickery [in the proposed charter] although I don’t think it is.”
Glenn Rappaport, a former councilman, said the home rule concept has broad support in Basalt. There is no need to include a controversial issue, he said.
Leroy Duroux, chairman of the Home Rule Charter Commission as well as a councilman, indicated the board’s members are thinking along the same lines. He claimed that only two of the eight commission members who proposed removing term limits felt strongly about the issue.
“We’re not going to leave stuff in that’s going to jeopardize approval of the charter,” Duroux said.
The Home Rule Charter proposal’s wording must be finalized by Sept. 17. The board plans to meet Wednesday, Sept. 11, to consider public comment from last night’s meeting and make possible alterations.
Commission member and Councilwoman Tiffany Gildred had been the only commission member to oppose repealing term limits in the charter. She argued against making so drastic a change and said she wants term limits to remain in place.
No one on the commission defended the repeal of term limits last night. However, in the past it was noted that voters have the ultimate term-limiting power at every election. Foes also said a well-qualified candidate shouldn’t be removed from office simply because they have served for several years.
Commission member Peter Frey noted that Basalt has trouble attracting enough candidates to elections. The April 2002 election was canceled when only three candidates ran for three seats.
Two incumbents ran unopposed. However, in the third race the incumbent didn’t seek re-election. That race still only attracted one candidate.
Frey said that dispels the theory that people won’t run for office because it is too difficult to unseat incumbents.
If voters are asked whether they would like to repeal or retain term limits, the council would have to place the question on the ballot. There seemed to be support among council members last night for resolving the issue separate from the Home Rule Charter question.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]