Manhattan Beach residents will be asked this November to tighten up the term-limit rules for council members.
The City Council voted 3-1 earlier this month to place a referendum on the county ballot that would impose an eight-year total cap on an office holder’s service, changing the rules voters approved in 1996.
“I don’t think this is a lifetime job,” said City Councilman Mark Burton, who made the motion to put stricter term limits to the voters. “Once you’ve done your eight years, you should be honored for that service, then allow someone else the opportunity.”
The city treasurer also would be subject to a two-term limit.
Currently, council members who have served two consecutive terms can run again after sitting out for two years. On the same 1996 ballot that set those rules, voters opposed Proposition K, which sought a lifetime ban on renewed service.
Placing the measure on the ballot will cost the city $48,000. Council members contemplated placing the measure on the March ballot, which would cost the city no additional fees, until Mayor Pro Tem Wayne Powell pointed out that its timing could invite prejudice against potential council candidates running for a third term.
“The cost of democracy is not cheap,” Powell said.
Councilman David Lesser called the referendum “a distraction and a terrible idea.” He said the measure replicates what voters had already decided in 1996.
Plus, he argued, residents should have the right to vote for or against a returning officeholder. Last year, former councilman Mitch Ward unsuccessfully ran for a third term after sitting out two years.
“Let’s focus on the work of the city and the immediate issues and not adopt this,” Lesser said.
He also noted that he didn’t feel at ease taking action on the item without Mayor Amy Howorth, who excused herself earlier that evening. The council initially deferred the decision for the June 17 meeting but reopened the discussion after the city attorney informed them that the deadline for the November ballot was the day before the next meeting. According to the County Clerk’s Office, the deadline to place a city measure on the county ballot in the November election is Aug. 8.
Resident Kim Lyons argued that while it’s not a pressing issue, the current law does need an update and further clarification.
“There’s just an abundance of talent in this town and there’s no need for people to serve more than eight years and take up room, frankly,” Lyons said. “There’s new blood, there’s new ideas, it’s always a good idea.”
Residents as recently as 2005 voiced approval for term limits in general, voting down a measure that sought to eliminate them.