Whitehall City Council soon will decide whether to give voters yet another opportunity to lift term limits for the mayor and members of council -- the very limits voters enforced via a charter amendment in 1993.
A five-member Charter Review Commission completed its audit of the city's 86-section city charter -- which acts as a "constitution" to define the government's powers and responsibilities.-- April 23, having met five times since its organizational meeting Feb. 26.
The commission, advisory in nature, made only a handful of recommendations for amendments, which were presented April 24 to City Council.
The suggestion to end or extend term limits is the most notable, and Councilman Wes Kantor said he believes council members will receive criticism regardless of their decision.
"It's a catch-22," he said.
"If we choose to place it on the ballot, people will say we are in favor (of lifting term limits) by putting in back on the ballot, (and) if we don't (act to place it on the ballot), we're not allowing voters a voice."
Whitehall's mayor and council members are limited to two terms in a single office, though some officials have managed to stay in office for longer periods by changing from council's ward seats to at-large seats or vice versa, or by seeking other elected positions.
The commission did not make a direct recommendation concerning term limits; rather, it recommended either rescinding term limits or increasing the current two-term limit to a three-term limit for the mayor and members of council.
In 1993, voters amended the city charter to enact term limits for the mayor and members of council in separate ballot issues.
Term limits for mayor passed with 2,480 in favor of it and 1,469 opposed to it.
An identical ballot issue aimed at members of council passed with 2,567 voters in favor of the amendment and 1,442 against it, according to the Franklin County Board of Elections.
The measures passed shortly after the death of former Whitehall Mayor John Bishop, who died in office after serving as mayor from 1972-93.
In 2013, after another charter review, voters opted to keep those term limits in place, rejecting a ballot issue that would have lifted term limits with 794 votes against it and 482 votes in favor.
Paul Werther, a member of the commission, said he favors asking voters to remove term limits altogether but viewed a three-term limit "as a compromise" in light of past rejections of ballot issues to abolish term limits.
Werther served on the commission along with Kim Bentley, Allyson Sharp, Jack Soma and Kevin Skinner.
The question of term limits is not the only issue council members are expected to consider.
"We will have a lot to discuss," Kantor said.
Other recommendations made by the charter commission include to remove the city's service director from the line of succession for mayor.
Currently, if the mayor can no longer serve, the council president is first to succeed, followed by the service director.
Since the service director is not required to reside in the city, Werther said the commission wanted to prevent the possibility of a nonresident serving as an acting mayor, and therefore suggested that a member of council succeed the mayor if the council president cannot.
The commission also recommended a residency requirement for anyone appointed to any advisory board or commission; that members of future charter review commissions be selected by a ward system; and to make the entirety of the city charter gender-neutral.
City Council can accept or reject any or all of the commission's recommendations, amend the recommendations or make its own recommendations, City Council President Jim Graham said.
If council chooses to place a charter amendment on the ballot, the authorizing legislation would receive a minimum of three readings, Graham said.
Each amendment would be presented a separate and distinct ballot issue, Graham said.
The filing deadline is Aug. 8 at the Franklin County Board of Elections for any issue to appear on the general election ballot Nov. 6.