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Council bats around term limit idea

There is no consensus on whether to repeal term limits for the mayor and council members.

By STEVE HUETTEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2000


TAMPA -- City Council members are evenly divided on a hot topic in local political circles: Should they let voters decide whether to lift term limits on themselves and Tampa's mayor?

The issue surfaced last month when attorney David Mechanik said he was looking into gathering enough signatures for a term-limit referendum in November that could open the door for Mayor Dick Greco to run for a third term in 2003.

That would require the signatures of 13,638 registered city voters. But there's an easier route to get the question on the ballot: get a majority of the council members to approve it.

At Thursday's meeting, Linda Saul-Sena asked fellow council members to consider tackling the issue in the coming months. None offered an opinion. But interviews afterward showed deep divisions.

There is a 3-3 split on a referendum to end term limits for both the mayor and council members. Rose Ferlita, Gwen Miller and Mary Alvarez support such a referendum; Bob Buckhorn, Charlie Miranda and Shawn Harrison oppose it.

But a majority of members -- Ferlita, Miller, Buckhorn and Harrison -- said they opposed a referendum only for the mayor. Only Alvarez and Miranda backed it. Saul-Sena said she was undecided on both referendum questions.

Letting voters lift term restrictions only for the mayor would look too much like a deal to benefit Greco alone instead of restructuring how city governance works, Ferlita said.

"You can't just put the focus on one person. It has to be for the mayor and council," said Ferlita, who pledged to leave council after two terms regardless of any change to the city charter.

Miranda made a distinction between the offices.

Unlike the mayor, council members don't have to retire after two four-year terms. They can simply jump from a citywide seat to one representing a district of the city.

"The council does not really have term limits," Miranda said. "But I would not prohibit the public from casting a vote on the mayor."

Tampa voters decided in 1983 to limit the mayor and council members to two four-year terms.

In May 1998, the City Council voted 4-3 to draft a term-limit referendum to determine whether the public wanted them overturned. But the idea died from inaction.

Greco, who will be 69 when his term ends, has said he doesn't know whether he'd serve again even if it were possible.

Mechanik said last month that 10 to 20 businessmen approached him about a referendum that would let Greco seek a third consecutive term.

The mayor is not behind the effort, Mechanik said. But he also "probably wouldn't" pursue the effort if Greco absolutely ruled out another term, Mechanik said.

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- Steve Huettel can be reached at (813) 226-3384, or at huettel@sptimes.com.

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