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Robust Discussion on Term Limits Conducted by Charter Study Task Force

Published on Thursday, February 8, 2024 | 5:35 am

[Updated: The following story has been updated. No formal recommendation was by made the study group.]

The Pasadena Charter Study Task Force began discussing possible amendments to the City Charter as regards the term limits of the city mayor and Councilmembers.

As part of the City Council’s scope of study, the task force has been asked to examine term limits for elected officials of the City Council as this topic has been brought up by the public whenever amendments to the charter are being considered.

The Pasadena City Charter establishes four-year terms for the mayor and Councilmembers, with no limits.

Consultant Baker Tilly conducted research on nine Pasadena peer cities: Anaheim, Berkeley, Burbank, Glendale, Long Beach, Santa Ana, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, and Torrance.

Based on their research, out of the nine cities, six have term limits. Anaheim, Santa Barbara, and Torrance allow no more than two consecutive four-year terms while Glendale, Long Beach, and Santa Monica allow no more than three consecutive four-year terms.

As per Shauna Clark, Special Advisor from Baker Tilly, having term limits would create more opportunities for non-incumbents to be elected. However, it can also shorten the tenure of the community’s most experienced legislators.

Term limits will also make public office less appealing, according to Baker Tilly.

As part of a slide presentation Baker Tilly put forth a hypothetical motion that would propose the City Council limit the Mayor and the Councilmembers’ terms to three consecutive four-year terms, with a partial term of more than two years counting as a term.

No formal recommendation was made. Instead the discussion was a framing of the issue of term limits with many views, opinions, and questions raised about term limits (pros and cons) by all members of the Task Force and public.  

According to the hypothetical motion, after a four-year hiatus, the official may hold office for another two four-year terms.

The proposal suggests that the provision goes into effect in 2026 for Council Districts 3, 5 and 7 in 2028 for the Mayor and Council Districts 1, 2, 4, and 6.

Some members of the public are in favor of term limits while some are opposed.

“We have incumbents who have served for over 20 years. I’m not going to criticize their performance, I’m sure they have done the best they can, they have done good for our city but I think 20 years is a long time to be in service and I think the term limits would give challengers a better chance of being elected,” said public commenter Anthony Manousos. “I’m really concerned that the city makes room for fresh voices and perspectives.”

“There’s a need for new people and young people to get involved. It reinvigorates democracy with fresh thoughts, fresh approaches, and an excitement that leads to change,” said Political Science Professor Denise Robb, who is also in favor of term limits.

“Free and fair public elections already serve to limit councilmembers and hold them accountable to their constituents,” said Elizabeth Burnam-Supple. “If the electorate feels that their councilmember is effectively representing their will in City Council, why should they be denied the opportunity to have said councilmember continue to represent them and instead be forced to select a less popular candidate? Term limits are undemocratic and I strongly oppose them, and would encourage the taskforce to also oppose them.”

Task force member Paul Novak expressed his sentiments in opposition to the proposed term limits.

“There is a sort of presumption that it’s really hard for new people to get elected to City Council. I’m not sure if that’s entirely true if you look at where the city is today.”

Meanwhile, member Margaret McAustin has mixed feelings about the proposal.

“As a woman, it’s especially hard to get elected to public office and beat an incumbent. The power of incumbency is so strong,” she added. “I understand that term limits would allow more people to come on to the City Council which is good. We need younger people, we need a diverse council but at the same time, if your constituents continue to elect you, that means something too.”

The task force deferred voting on the matter to hear more comments from the public about term limits at a future meeting.

“We should budget enough time to hopefully invite more public comments and have another round of discussions and perhaps then we can think about possible motions,” said Chair Ken Chawkins.

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