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Ballot may carry 2 term-limit issues

By STEVE HUETTEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 8, 2000


TAMPA -- Tampa voters could wind up with two term limit questions on the November ballot -- one for the mayor and another for the City Council.

City Attorney James Palermo is recommending that the council today approve two separate ballot referendums. The package deal the council had proposed could face a constitutional challenge for dealing with more than one issue, Palermo said.

But City Council member Bob Buckhorn says splitting the issue helps those who favor removing the two-term limit to allow Mayor Dick Greco to run for a third consecutive term in 2003.

"It's important that it be a single issue, as simple and self-explanatory as possible," said Buckhorn, considered a sure bet to run for mayor in three years. "The issue is term limits, and voters need to understand we're talking about a repeal of term limits."

In 1983, Tampa voters overwhelmingly approved limiting the mayor and council members to two consecutive four-year terms. Council members can, however, shift between citywide and single district seats to avoid the limits.

The council voted 5-2 last month to put the issue on the general election ballot in November for themselves and the mayor, arguing that voters might have changed their minds over the years.

Council member Gwen Miller, who voted for the referendum, was surprised to hear Wednesday that Palermo proposed separating the two issues.

"I think what we said was we wanted it all in one," she said.

But two other supporters, Council Chairman Charlie Miranda and Council member Rose Ferlita, said splitting the issues would give voters a clearer choice.

"I kind of like it. This makes it fairer," Ferlita said.

Buckhorn, however, argued that term limit opponents were trying to pull a fast one on the council. They put council members in the proposal to make sure it passed and now worry the council might hurt the effort to extend the mayor's term.

"They needed the council to get to the dance, but they sure aren't going home with the council," he said.

Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political science professor, said voters tend to look more favorably on executives, such as a governor or mayor, than legislative bodies such as the council.

Whether that's true or not, Palermo said his office proposed two referendums strictly as a matter of law. He pointed to a 1924 Florida Supreme Court decision stating that struck down a referendum in Tampa that dealt with numerous bond issues.

The political aspect "was not a consideration, will never be a consideration out of this office," he said.

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

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