Jacksonville City Council Postpones Vote On Term Limits Referendum

Jul 26, 2017

Councilman John Crescimbeni saved a sign from the 1991 referendum vote for two-year term limits. He brought it to Tuesday's Council meeting.
Credit City of Jacksonville / WJCT News

The Jacksonville City Council on Tuesday night postponed a vote on a bill that would let voters give many public officials more time in office.

Councilman Matt Schellenberg said he’s sponsoring the increased-term-limit bill because a city task force recommended the change a couple years ago.

It would allow council members, the sheriff, school board and other public officials, including the property appraiser and elections supervisor, to run for three consecutive terms instead of two, meaning they could be in office 12 years in a row instead of eight.

Council members currently can sit out for four years and run for council again after serving eight.

After about an hour of debate, Councilman Reggie Gaffney suggested the postponement for about a month, to give members a chance to hear from representatives of the task force and from constituents.

“We can defer this so we all can get better information. I think I would be in a better position to support it or not support it,” Gaffney said. “I think it’s worth us vetting this.”

Voters approved city officials’ term limits in 1991. During the debate this week, Councilman John Crescimbeni, who was also a council member then before returning in 2008 in a special election said he remembers how passionate the community was about limiting council terms.

“If you want to push the green button tonight, I suspect that’s going to seal your fate at the next election,” Crescimbeni said. “What happened in May of 1991, I’ve never seen anything like it. People were upset. People don’t want you to tinker with this.”

But Schellenberg said he believes an additional term actually encourages people to challenge incumbents.

“A lot of people will say, ‘Wait four years to run when (a seat) is open because it’s a little bit easier,’” he said. “We’ll have more competition because people aren’t going to say, ‘Wait eight years.’”

He also said longer in officer would make for more experienced city lawmakers.

Council member Joyce Morgan said she understood where he’s coming from because after attending conventions with other city officials who can serve longer, she felt very green.

“We definitely always feel...kind of overwhelmed with the knowledge that they have and how they move about and they’re able to accomplish so much,” she said.

However, after supporting the bill in committee, at Tuesday’s meeting, she said she felt differently after hearing from many of her constituents.

“If our constituents truly do not want us to put this on the ballot to go through all of this, I don’t really have a problem with that,” Morgan said. “I don’t think I’m going to support it.”

But Councilmember Reggie Brown, who supports putting the term expansion to the ballot, asked his colleagues what’s the point of funding task forces if the council isn’t going to enact their recommendations?

“We need to stop spending money and time with these task forces, asking them to do studies if we’re not going to respect the studies that are done,” Brown said.

Council members will take up the bill again at their August 22 meeting. If it passes, the question would go on the ballot, giving voters the final say in 2018.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.