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Town ‘term limits’ referendum nears

A circuitous and sometimes comical discussion on term limits ended with a probable referendum for voters at Farragut’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting Thursday, Aug. 12.

The Board passed, on first reading, an ordinance to allow a referendum vote on term limits in November.

But you might not know that from the discussion.

The ordinance, as presented to the Board, limited any elected official to serving two terms in any office — regardless of whether those terms were served consecutively or cumulatively. In other words, an elected official could only serve two full (four-year) terms, whether those were in one single time span of eight years or if the two terms were separated over a longer period. And it wouldn’t matter if that official served two terms as alderman, two as mayor, or one of each.

Two terms was the limit, no matter what.

“This is term limits — there’s no asterisk by it … you serve two terms, you serve two terms,” Alderman Jeff Elliott said.

“I’m opposed to the idea of people ‘camping out’ in elected office,” Alderman John Williams said.

The ordinance also would apply retroactively — any elected official who has ever served the Town two terms or more would be barred from serving again. That is, as soon as the term limits go into effect in 2014.

“This is completely retroactive as of that year,” Williams said, although he clarified that no person currently in office in 2014 in, say, his third term, could be “kicked out.”

But Alderman Bob Markli said he felt two terms might be too short a time to serve.

No alderman who served two terms could ever be mayor, he said.

“And I’m not sure that’s a good thing,” he added.

Williams came up with an “elegantly simple” alternative proposal: limit officials to three terms, rather than two, and rule that those three terms can never be served consecutively, or right in a row.

“That third consecutive term, that crosses a line for me,” Williams said.

But Elliott wasn’t sure if three terms in an elected office quite qualified as term limits.

“Twelve years, by the way, is the same time between first grade and graduation. And that felt like forever,” Mayor Ralph McGill pointed out to a good deal of audience laughter.

“I guarantee this — I’m not going to be mayor for 12 years,” he added.

Town Attorney Tom Hale said he wasn’t sure he could word an ordinance in such a way that would allow someone to seek three terms of office but prohibit them from serving one 12-year block.

“If it’s not clear and it’s questionable, this may not pass,” Hale said of the question that will ultimately make it to the ballot.

Markli said he’d thought term limits were a bit superfluous in a Town where elected officials are not paid and their service is entirely volunteer.

McGill disagreed, saying he didn’t like the idea of career politicians, and felt it would be more beneficial to have a “revolving door” on the Board.

“When people have the chance to run against people who aren’t incumbents, more people may come out. Running against incumbents is hard,” McGill said.

“I agree,” Markli said, adding his thoughts on term limits being superfluous in Farragut had changed since he was elected.

Williams tried to bring the discussion back to the ordinance.

“Do we have a consensus among the Board on this motion?” he asked.

“What motion?” McGill asked.

Williams tried to make a motion to approve a new ordinance that would limit officials to three non-consecutive terms, rather than two total terms.

Then Hale pointed out the Board could approve the ordinance on first reading as it was originally written — with term limits being defined to two terms — and then make any changes for the second reading.

So the Board did that.

Williams moved that the ordinance be accepted as written; Markli seconded and the motion was unanimously approved by roll call vote.

The ordinance still has to be passed on second reading to take effect and make it to the November ballots. Second reading, with the changes to three terms rather than two, is scheduled for the Board meeting Thursday, Aug. 26.


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