The citizens of Prince George’s County will have many decisions to make during the November election, but one decision could potentially give elected officials a lot more time in office to make their own decisions. On Nov. 4, the citizens will vote on Question J. If passed, the law would amend the charter to allow […]
The citizens of Prince George’s County will have many decisions to make during the November election, but one decision could potentially give elected officials a lot more time in office to make their own decisions.
On Nov. 4, the citizens will vote on Question J. If passed, the law would amend the charter to allow the county executive and county council to be elected to three terms instead of the two to which they are currently limited.
The county council unanimously approved placing the question on the ballot and the Prince George’s County Charter Commission recommended the change in April 2014.
Co-chairman of the charter commission, retired Judge William Missouri, said the commission made a recommendation to increase the term limits to lessen the historical drain on the governmental operations of the county.
“Anytime people who have been there leave, you have a steep learning curve for the people who are coming in,” Missouri said. “Our thought was if, in fact, you could let the people be there for a third term it would give more stability to the government.”
Missouri said commission’s recommendation would benefit the county. People who are elected into office, Missouri said, do not get up to speed with the system until about two years into their term. If given more time, they might be able to get more work done.
“What we thought was that maybe if you extended the term you get a longer period of productivity from those who are there,” Missouri said. “It is not a guarantee that they will be there because someone can always run against them.”
Missouri said the commission looked at the situation objectively.
“We’re looking at it for good government in the county,” Missouri said. “If people don’t know what they’re doing, there’s going to be a learning curve.”
Mel Franklin, chairman of the county council, said the term limits issue is really about voter choice and not public officials.
“The referendum would allow voters to decide if they want their local leaders to have more experience or less,” Franklin said. “Right now, term limits artificially make sure that Prince George’s County has the least experienced local elected officials. What that leads to is when it comes to competing for resources, competing for economic development or other aspects in our region; we’re sort of doing it with one hand tied behind our back. Our counterparts have the advantage of many more years of experience as to how to accomplish those things.”
Franklin said term limits take the choice out of the hands of voters when it comes to voting for elected officials.
“What the referendum would do is say voters have another term to allow elected officials to stay in office if they choose,” Franklin said.
Franklin said he thinks there could be a point where the county considers removing term limits for elected officials completely, because most neighboring jurisdictions, including Montgomery County, do not have term limits.
Voters have to internalize the issue of having local officials who are the least experienced in the region. It is a big deal, Franklin said, and can lead to having officials with a much bigger learning curve about how to get things done.
Franklin said having more experienced elected officials in the county is in the best interest of the local government. Just like with any other job, Franklin said, the more experience you have the better the government will be.
William Cavitt, president of the Indian Head Highway Area Action council, said the IHHAAC unanimously voted to “vigorously oppose” the possibility of another term being added for the county executive and county council.
Cavitt said there should be no learning curve for officials because the county executive and council should already have experience serving the community.
“Candidates for county executive and county council ought to have significant experience as citizen activists before running for these offices,” Cavitt said. “With that background, the learning curve should be shallow. Further, many council members and county executives historically have shown no sense of urgency in addressing the county’s problems. An eight-year term limit versus 12 years incentivizes those who care to press ahead on critical issues.”
Franklin said adding another term would not prevent people from running for office in the future. The voters still have to vote for who they want to represent them, Franklin said.
“Whether you’re trying to get in local government or not, voters have to vote you in,” Franklin said. “A new person would have to run and work hard to get elected.”
Cheryl Landis, the chair of the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee, said the decision to add another term limit is up to the voters of Prince George’s county.
Landis said voters will know which side they are on when they go to the polls and cast their ballot.
“The bottom line for me is that we need to provide that opportunity for the voters,” Landis said. “The people who come to vote regularly are educated people. They know exactly how they are going to vote when they come to the polls.”