tampabay.com

Get rid of term limits, reject notion of raises

By Times editorial
Published March 27, 2007


New Port Richey voters are being asked to consider a pair of referendum questions on the April 10 ballot. Question one asks if term limits should be removed from the city charter so the mayor and council can serve more than three consecutive terms.

Absolutely.

The city's ability to progress has been impaired in the past by term limits that forced highly qualified people to depart from office, only to be replaced by new leaders facing a substantial learning curve.

Exchanging former council member Wendy Brenner for Scott Bryant 10 years ago comes to mind as the most egregious example, particularly after Bryant announced his intentions to resign and run for County Commission just months after joining the council.

Over the years Peter Altman, Frank Parker, Robert Prior, Brenner and Virginia Miller have been forced to vacate their seats because of term limits. Some, like Altman, Parker and Miller, returned after a short hiatus. Others, like Prior, did not seek elected office again.

While advocates say term limits churn office-holders to bring fresh blood, the ramifications in Tallahassee have proven detrimental.

Legislators fresh off their first election attempt to line up votes for leadership positions six years away, and the valuable institutional knowledge rests nearly exclusively with lobbyists, not those accountable to the voters.

Instead of kicking off a sound incumbent because of an artificial limit, New Port Richey voters should be allowed to choose whether to retain a council member.

The Times recommends voters say yes on referendum question one.

The second question is more touchy.

It asks if the City Council should adopt an ordinance to increase the salaries of elected officials by $3,000 annually. The referendum is nonbinding.

Pushing the mayor's pay to $7,200 and the council members' salary to $6,600 represents a $500 monthly increase for each elected official, or $15,000 for the annual total.

It comes at the same time various candidates are championing property tax relief, staff layoffs and service cuts to curb general fund spending.

Accepting an 83 percent salary increase while pushing for government efficiency is counterproductive.

Voters should reject referendum question two and council members should return with a more reasonable, phased-in salary increase plan that can be adopted without taking the electorate's temperature in an opinion poll.