The Jacksonville City Council voted against a bill that would have let voters decide whether to extend the limits on local officials’ terms in office. The vote was 11-to-6 at Tuesday’s meeting.
Jacksonville public officials can serve two consecutive four-year terms. If City Council had passed the bill, voters next year could have granted them the ability to run for an extra term, for 12 consecutive years instead of eight.
Jacksonville voters approved term limits in 1991. Council members currently can sit out for four years and run again after serving eight.
Councilwoman Katrina Brown said her vote in favor of putting the question to a referendum wasn’t self-serving, as some other members had suggested, but rather serving the public.
“Times change, people change,” Brown said. “I believe that whether a person is for term limits or not, our biggest argument in government is we never let the people decide.”
Councilman Al Ferraro argued the same point, saying though he’s in favor of the current term limits, he thinks the public should be allowed to vote on the matter.
The additional consecutive term would also have applied to a number of officials including the sheriff, school board and others, including the property appraiser and elections supervisor.
The bill’s sponsor, Councilman Matt Schellenberg, said he proposed it because a city task force recommended the change a couple years ago. He also said he thinks longer in office makes for more experienced lawmakers. And, he said, relaxing term limits could encourage more competition for public office, because people might be more likely to challenge an incumbent, instead of facing a potential 12-year wait for an open seat.
“You’re taking away rights that the citizens have,” Schellenberg said. “When you start restricting rights – and this is a right that you’re taking away from the voters – why would you do that?”
But the bill failed due to the votes of 11 council members.
Councilman Bill Gulliford encouraged his colleagues to vote against it, saying the public already decided a long time ago,
“I have seen no evidence of any great enthusiasm amongst the citizenry that says this is a hot issue and we probably should bring it up for another vote,” Gulliford said. “I think until you get to that point, I think it’s a dead issue.”
And Councilman John Crescimbeni, a vocal opponent of the bill, warned his colleagues, the referendum wouldn’t pass and the public would vote those who approve the bill out of office.
“While you may not be self-serving, I caution you it’s not going to appear that way to your opponent, and it’s not going to appear that way to the voters,” he said.
An amendment to the bill by Councilman Tommy Hazouri, which would have exempted sitting officials from the possible extra term, also failed.