Voters will not have the option of permanently banning term-limited City Council members from seeking office again.
At a contentious Thursday night meeting in which council members publicly accused each other of bad manners and deception, the council voted 3-2 to ask voters if officials forced out by term limits should be allowed to run again if they sit out for one, three-year term. The question will be put to voters March 13, along with other changes.
Even if voters say no, term-limited Council members would still be able to run again after sitting out for only one year — a choice Vice Mayor Mark Marciano was not convinced voters will understand from the ballot summary, which is limited to 75 words.
The Council rejected asking voters to approve a lifetime ban that Marciano said was more straightforward and less confusing.
“I just don’t want anybody to come back to us and state that we presented a question that wasn’t giving them two distinct choices,” he said at Thursday night’s special council meeting.
In November 2014, voters approved term limits that state no council member should serve more than two consecutive, three-year terms. Voters also will be asked in March if council members should be allowed to serve three terms instead of two.
Even though Marciano supports a three-year “sit out,” he voted against putting it on the ballot because he wanted voters to have the lifetime ban as an option, he said.
Councilman Matthew Lane, the other dissenting vote, has said council members who benefited from term limits to get into office are making a mistake to alter them.
Just before Mayor Maria Marino adjourned Thursday’s meeting, Councilwoman Rachelle Litt called out Lane for making up his mind on term limits before the council discussed it at a Dec. 7 meeting. That was the same meeting in which residents who support keeping term limits the same wore “Matt for Mayor” stickers.
“To think that council member Lane would come in here last meeting with his own agenda, his mind made up, an agreement already made with a select group of residents…and then accuse us, accuse me of being self-serving and complicit in trying to deceive the people of this city is outrageous, and I couldn’t let it go unanswered,” Litt said.
Lane said it was “bad manners and a lack of etiquette to attack someone personally.” If officials don’t have a position after living in the city and working on the issues for eight months, maybe they haven’t thought about it enough, he said.
“To say that it’s not self-serving to add an extra term of office for yourself — that’s not self-serving?” Lane added. “That’s the definition of self-serving.”
Lane said he had nothing to do with the “Matt for Mayor” stickers. People called and asked him how he was going to vote before the meeting.
“What you see is what you get,” he said. “They asked me how I was going to vote, and I told them.”
The debate has become divisive because of disagreements about the most effective method of term limits. Some say a three-year cooling off period will blunt a previous council person’s advantage over a newcomer if they run again. But a lifetime ban would drain the city of valuable knowledge.
At a council workshop Thursday night, it was pointed out that Sid Dinerstein, a staunch term limits supporter, and his attorney, James D’Loughy, have both said they never intended the limits to be a lifetime ban.
“I only care about a lifetime ban because we keep electing takers and not givers,” Dinerstein, who was not at the meeting, said when reached by phone Friday. “If we elected better people, I’d be good with a three-year ban, but not with these guys.”