With a court ruling on their side, Palm Beach Gardens residents have overwhelmingly supported strict term limits, but the city council is asking for a reprieve.
As it stands, city council members can serve no more than two, uninterrupted three-year terms because of a measure that 80 percent of voters approved in 2014. A council member forced from office by term limits may never run again, based on a court’s interpretation.
Now, a group appointed by the council has suggested changing the rules to allow officials to serve three, three-year terms. The group also recommended allowing council members to run again after they’ve sat out a term.
The council directed the city attorney to draft measures to put on the ballot in March.
All five city council members took the seats of officials who had to leave office because of the retroactive term limits. If voters approve the proposed changes in March, council members could get one more three-year term than they’re allowed under the current rules.
Resident Fred Scheibl, a co-founder of the PBG Watch blog, said the council members shouldn’t be trying to get themselves a better deal.
“You were all elected under these rules, and you should abide by them,” he said.
Supporters of the Palm Beach Gardens Needs Term Limits committee wore stickers with a picture of an expired parking meter printed with the words “two term limit” and “Don’t touch my term limits. Leave it alone!!”
Sid Dinerstein, a BallenIsles resident who has fought for term limits, was among the most outspoken critics.
“We stand 16,000 strong. More residents voted for our term limits than voted for any of you,” he said. “Nobody could be as stupid and gullible as you think we are.”
Brian Seymour, an attorney who chaired the volunteer committee reviewing the charter, said the recommendations weren’t specific to any person.
“This is not about you. This is not about any previous council, and I don’t know who will be sitting up there in the future,” he said.
The committee never considered removing term limits, only tweaking them to give newly elected officials more time to learn the job, he said.
Term limits were at play in last year’s election between now-former councilman David Levy and Carl Woods. An appeals court ruled term limits made Levy ineligible for office after the city declared him the winner and swore him in.
Whether Levy had the majority of the votes cast was disputed, and a Palm Beach County Circuit judge ruled that a runoff was required. That was before the appeals court ruled Levy ineligible, and the circuit judge ruled Woods the winner by default.
Mayor Maria Marino said the city council wasn’t involved in forming the committee’s recommendations, and that the issues are for voters to decide.
Councilman Matthew Lane said he’d rather have two, four-year terms, the most common term in the country and state, mirroring how the United States picks the president. That would provide more stable leadership and save the city money by requiring fewer elections.
Seymour said the committee discussed four-year terms but ultimately decided it would be better to have two elections — opportunities to remove people from office — instead of just one.
As for allowing people to return to office after a break in service, an outside consultant hired to advise the committee said forcing people to sit out a term usually results in fewer people choosing to run again.
If voters agree with the recommendations, the city will also decide election winners by plurality instead of requiring one candidate to earn the majority of the votes cast.
That would allow straw candidates to dilute the “opposition vote,” Dinerstein said.
Run-off elections cost thousands of dollars, and the result doesn’t often change, according to the committee. An extremely small percentage of eligible voters choose the council person, the committee reported.
Palm Beach Gardens Attorney Max Lohman will rewrite the recommendations into legal-sufficient wording that city council will OK and put to voters for final approval in March. Residents criticized officials for the timing because no council seats are up for grabs in that election.
Lohman said Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher won’t allow municipal questions on the ballot in November and doesn’t like to take them in August because it adds too many pages.
- Increasing the number of uninterrupted three-year terms a City Council member can serve to three. Under the current rules and a court ruling, City Council members may only serve two full terms before they must leave office for good.
- Allowing term-limited City Council members to run for office again after they’ve sat out for three years.
- Determining election winners by plurality rather than requiring one candidate to have a majority of the votes cast
Charter review committee members
Brian Seymour, Chair
Margaret (Meg) Shannon, Vice-Chair