Whitehall News

Question of term limits will appear on ballot, after all

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Now two charter questions will go before Whitehall voters in November: those concerning term limits and staggering the city auditor's term.

Whitehall City Council members reversed gears during their Aug. 6 meeting and overturned a July 30 decision to reject a proposal to place the term-limits issue on the ballot.

All six council members who attended the Aug. 6 meeting voted to put the question on the ballot, contrary to the 5-1 decision July 30 to forgo the measure.

Councilman Chris Rodriguez was absent Aug. 6.

Councilman Van Gregg was absent July 30, and council member Robert Bailey cast the only yes vote then.

The deadline to file the issue with the Franklin County Board of Elections was 4 p.m. Aug. 7.

Mayor Kim Maggard, who was absent July 30, made a pointed plea to council members to reconsider their decisions.

"I believe the voters of Whitehall are serious and intelligent people" who should have the right to choose whether the city continues its practice of term limits, she said.

Referring to critics who previously reiterated that Whitehall voters twice have rejected ballot issues repealing term limits, Maggard said it has been 12 years since the question was posed. Term limits were enacted in 1994.

"There is a new generation of voters who have not had a chance to consider this. ... Our city has changed (since then)," said Maggard, who was elected in 2011 after serving eight years as city auditor.

Maggard said voters should have an opportunity "every 10 to 15 years" to reassess the practice of term limits. She criticized the practice, opining that qualified officeholders are forced out of office at the risk of replacement by less-qualified candidates, or that qualified candidates, especially attorneys and accountants, do not seek election in the first place because the job cannot be held for more than eight years.

Councilwoman Karen Conison said she changed her vote because she believes most residents want to consider the issue and that the efforts of the Charter Review Commission should be considered.

"I thought I was doing what was best for our citizens," Conison said about her July 30 vote to block the issue from the ballot. "However, after careful consideration and talking with some citizens, I realized I did just the opposite. I failed the democratic system that I solely believe in."

Council member Leslie LaCorte said although she personally supports term limits, the decision "shouldn't be my vote, but their vote."

Councilman Wes Kantor said he does not support term limits but thinks voters should have an opportunity to consider it.

"I was 50-50 (on July 30)," Kantor said, adding that he had opposed it, in part because it had been rejected twice. "But this is an important decision for our residents, (and) I think they should have the opportunity to decide."

Councilman Leo Knoblauch said that even during the July 30 meeting, he supported placing the issue before voters, but he voted against it to have the option to seek its reconsideration Aug. 6. Because he was the last member to cast a vote July 30, he said, he already knew the measure would be defeated, so he voted no in an effort to have the option to seek its reconsideration.

"Regardless of my personal opinion (about term limits), the voters need to decide," Knoblauch said.

Knoblauch said council member Robert Bailey did not ask for the motion to reconsider the ordinance. Bailey, the only member to vote in favor of placing the issue on the ballot at both meetings, said he requested for council members to reintroduce the ordinance.

The ordinance is one of three stemming from recommendations of a five-member Whitehall Charter Review Commission. Bailey's wife, Naja, was among the five members.

The commission originally recommended lifting term limits only for council members. It did not recommend lifting limits for the mayor, auditor, treasurer or city attorney, giving rise to a concern that lifting limits for only council members would disturb the balance of power between the administrative and legislative divisions of Whitehall's government.

Council members amended the commission's proposal to include lifting limits for the administrative offices, as well as members of council.

Council members also approved a charter amendment measure to ask voters whether the auditor's term should be staggered with those of at-large council members rather than other administrators. The amendment proposes a two-year term for the auditor, followed by four-year terms, to make the terms congruent with council members.

Council decided not to accept several other recommendations, including ward redistricting.

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