Council OKs term limits initiative


With the April 2000 election approaching, the City Council last week revisited term limits and campaign financing, issues that topped the agenda and seemed to provoke the most partisan debates.

The council agreed 3-2 to place on the ballot a term limits measure, previously introduced by Councilman Tom Hasse. The measure will allow voters to resolve whether elected officials should be limited to two terms totaling eight years.

Hasse said it would not apply retroactively to sitting members of the council. He explained that the measure fulfills one of the promises he made during his campaign for the council, and he said the issue was not intended to target any of his colleagues: “I’m sorry that this debate has been taken personally by some people. It was not meant to be personal.”

Harry Barovsky announced his opposition to term limits, but cast the deciding vote, along with Hasse and Councilwoman Joan House, to place the matter on the April 2000 ballot. He said he strenuously objects to the underlying measure and will campaign actively against it. “The electorate in Malibu is not stupid,” said Barovsky. “Let the people decide … exercise their intelligence.”

Mayor Carolyn Van Horn denounced the proposal as arbitrary and said it would lead to chaos — adding to the difficulty in convincing capable people to serve in city government. She warned that those who favor a clean sweep ignore the fact that change must be gradual and linked with history and continuity. She concluded the measure would feed the public’s negative attitude toward public service.

Councilman Walt Keller said he tried not to take the debate personally but took offense at a reference in the ordinance to a class of career politicians. He said the measure is both insulting and unnecessary, and will serve only as a distraction for the voters.

Most of the comments during the debate related to language lifted from a statute enacted by the city of Dana Point. A preamble declared, “Increased concentration of political power in the hands of incumbent representatives has made our electoral system less free, less competitive and less representative.” The draft ordinance also said an unfair advantage in favor of incumbents “discourages qualified candidates from seeking public office and creates a class of career politicians.” The measure asserted that career politicians become “representatives of the bureaucracy.”

Before the vote, Barovsky stripped what he described as “the offending verbiage” and dictated new language stating that no person shall be elected for more than two consecutive four-year terms. House urged the word “consecutive” be dropped, and Barovsky agreed. The two terms could then be separated by any number of years. The two-term threshold would then trigger a lifetime ban.

Hasse stated because terms to the council are staggered, the measure would never lead to a clean sweep. There would always be continuity, with “veterans serving with new blood,” he said. Addressing the new language, he said the measure would not apply to someone appointed to fill a vacancy on the council.

The split within the council emerged again on a draft of changes to Malibu’s campaign regulations, contained in Article II, Chapter 10 of the city code. Hasse maintained the contribution disclosure features have worked well. He acknowledged that candidates who spend the most money were often not among the top vote getters. The problem, he said, is how to regulate those committees not under the control of a candidate.

Barovsky said it was not possible to fashion a law to cover all contingencies. He called the city’s past effort to enforce the statute a debacle that cost in excess of a quarter of a million dollars. He asked that the measure be shelved or that it be made simple. He suggested the electorate will learn “to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

House called for a “code of ethics.” But Keller declared, “We can’t legislate ethics and morality.”

Acting city attorney Richard Terzian, noting some overlap with California state law, observed that in-kind contributions, such as hosting a barbecue for a political candidate, are reportable under the state requirements. He noted the possibility that the council might consider having no statute at all.

Barovsky said he did not want to see another citizen forced to spend $45,000 to mount a defense to charges under the law. House remarked that some of the proposal is too complex, but Hasse warned that simplicity won’t solve the problems. He insisted the council must be prudent and keep those aspects of current law that are working.

The members agreed to give Terzian another chance to draft a “red-lined” version to be brought back to the council in two weeks and to be listed as “old business.” At one point in the debate, Barovsky quipped that he would not be running for office again without first speaking with his psychiatrist.