Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Solution in Search of a Problem, Part One

By Marc Korman.

Signatures are being collected for a Charter Amendment proposed by Robin Ficker to limit Montgomery County Councilmembers and County Executives from serving more than three consecutive terms. We have a solution! But what’s the problem?

The proposed term limits language is available here. To summarize, starting in 2014 Councilmembers or Executives cannot serve more than three consecutive terms, but they can serve additional terms if they are non-consecutive. For example, County Executive Doug Duncan served three terms from 1994 to 2006. But under the proposal he would not be barred from seeking a fourth term in 2014 because it would be non-consecutive.

So there is the solution, now what is the problem? There are some generic reasons for promoting term limits such as ousting “entrenched politicians” and ensuring a citizen-legislature. My own view, based on seeing term limits play out in California, is they actually have the opposite effect and elected officials spend too much time hunting for their next office and not enough time doing their jobs. It also ensures that once elected officials have a certain level of experience, they will be shown the door.

But generic discussions aside, what would the effect of term limits actually be in Montgomery County? Let’s take a look.

Since the charter establishing the County Council-County Executive form of government was enacted in 1970, there have been forty-one individual members of the County Council including those elected or appointed mid-term.

Seventeen of the forty-one served only one term or a partial term, which includes incumbents currently serving their first term such as Roger Berliner, Nancy Navarro, Valerie Ervin, Marc Elrich, and Duchy Trachtenberg.

Eleven of the forty-one have served two terms or one term plus a partial term, such as Howard Denis who was elected midway through a term and then reelected to his own.

Eight of the forty-one were elected to three terms, including current Councilmember Phil Andrews and other well known names (among readers of this blog anyway) such as Derick Berlage, who did not complete his third term due to appointment to the Planning Board, and Esther Gelman.

That leaves just five Councilmembers who have ever exceeded the proposed term limit. Incidentally, just one Councilmember surpassed the proposed term limit during the Councils that existed prior to the County Executive between 1949 and 1970. That Councilman was Grover K. Walker, who served four terms.

So maybe the term limit is not such a bad idea, since it won’t really have much effect? Let’s take a look at who these five dastardly people are who overstayed their welcome due to their thirst for power:

Neal Potter
William Hanna
Michael Subin
Ike Leggett
Marilyn Praisner

Now I know what you are thinking. There are some good people on this list, but maybe some did overstay their welcome a bit. We will address these five individuals in Part Two.