Opposition to idea of extending, eliminating term limits surfaces

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Some say the idea to extend or eliminate city council term limits is

an attempt by current council members at a “power grab.”

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

The item is not even officially on the ballot, but the proposal to extend or possibly eliminate city council member term limits already has at least two major opponents. Former Planning Commissioner Richard Carrigan and Public Safety Commissioner Ryan Embree have called the idea an attempt at “a power grab” and “a slap in the face” to Malibu voters who approved term limits in 2000. Meanwhile, some council members say limiting the amount of time a person can spend on the council means the city government will lose valuable institutional memory.

Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich proposed at last week’s City Council meeting that an item should be placed on the ballot in April to decide if voters want to either extend term limits from two terms to three of if they want to eliminate limits altogether.

Conley Ulich said in an interview this week that she thought about the idea after City Manager Katie Lichtig announced earlier this month that she would be leaving in January. With Mayor Andy Stern and Councilmember Sharon Barovsky up for reelection in April and Mayor Pro Tem Ken Kearsley and Councilmember Jeff Jennings termed out in 2008, Conley Ulich said she was concerned that there could soon be nobody left at City Hall with extended institutional memory.

To get the item on the April ballot, the council must approve the language before Jan. 13. That would likely occur at the regular Jan. 9 council meeting. It was incorrectly reported in The Malibu Times last week that the council would need to approve the measure twice. That does not need to happen because it is not a tax proposal or a development agreement.

Carrigan said the process was happening too fast, with the issue possibly being discussed at just two meetings prior to being put on the ballot. He said he would prefer more discussions to take place in the community and during council meetings before the council decides whether to put the questions before the voters.

“What’s the rush here?” Carrigan asked. “Why are they shoving this [issue] down the throats of this community without any debate?”

Conley Ulich said she wanted the item to go on the April ballot because, coupled with the City Council election, it would cost the city only a small amount of extra money. But if it were put on the November ballot or during another month it could cost between $25,000 and $60,000. City Clerk Lisa Pope confirmed those costs were accurate.

Kearsley said he thought April was the perfect time for the voters to be asked about term limits.

“I think it’s an important local issue that would get buried on the November ballot, which will include several state propositions,” Kearsley said.

Kearsley said he would vote to put extending term limits on the April ballot, but did not know how he would vote in April. He said he did not remember how he voted in 2000 when the residents approved term limits.

However, Kearsley said term limits can be problematic because it can prevent good people from being able to run. In contrast, Public Safety Commissioner Embree wrote in a fax to The Malibu Times that term limits were a good thing because they prevent people from becoming career politicians. He further suggested that this proposal was an attempt by the current council members to stay in power.

Carrigan made similar arguments to Embree’s, calling the proposal “an attempt at a power grab” to keep Jennings and Kearsley in office past 2008. He said if Jennings and Kearsley were to announce they would not run in 2008, even if term limits were extended or eliminated, there could be a discussion in the community about term limits that would not be “tainted by politics.” Both men said they did not know if they would run in 2008, if given the opportunity.

“That’s so far away that I haven’t even thought about it,” Jennings said. “My attitude varies.”

Jennings said Carrigan’s statements had “more to do with Mr. Carrigan’s ambitions than with reality.”

Former Councilmember Tom Hasse spearheaded the effort to create term limits in 1999. In September of that year, the council voted 3-2 to put the issue on the ballot in April. The voters then overwhelmingly approved the proposal for a two-term limit, with 65 percent voting in favor of it.

Hasse, who lives in New Mexico, said in an interview last week that term limits are important because, he said, incumbents have a tremendous advantage in elections. He said term limits are also a good way to “add new blood into the system.” Hasse said he was not persuaded by an argument Conley Ulich made at last week’s council meeting that government operates slowly and that council members might not be able to see projects through with a two-term limit.

“The American revolution was won in less than seven years,” Hasse said. “The Civil War was won in four years. Eight years is plenty of time for a councilmember to get things done.”

Hasse added that it should raise concern for voters that the term limits law could be altered before the original voter-approved law goes into effect. Under current law, in 2008 Jennings and Kearsley would be the first council members to be termed out.

But Kearsley said the fact that the law has never had a chance to go into effect is not a good reason to leave it alone.