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Puyallup City Council doesn’t need term limits

Post by Kim Bradford on May 26, 2010 at 6:37 pm with No Comments »
May 28, 2010 7:31 am

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

It’s about time the Puyallup City Council debated imposing term limits – if for no other reason than to give the idea a full hearing before shelving it.

Council members have unsuccessfully tried to broach the question of term limits twice in the last two years. Each time, the debate was checked before it began.

Now it appears the council may be warming to the idea. On Tuesday, council members asked city staff to prepare a resolution authorizing an advisory vote in November. The council – which has the final say on term limits since Puyallup residents don’t have the power of initiative or referendum – will consider placing the measure on the ballot at a future meeting.

Term limits do guarantee turnover in elected offices. But whether that turnover or the mechanism by which it is achieved is always a good thing depends on who’s doing the judging.

There’s a better argument for term limits higher up the political food chain. Full-time, salaried positions like those on the Pierce County Council can attract careerists if not for limits on lengths of service.

At the city council level, elections alone usually guarantee turnover. Puyallup itself is a good example: Only two of the city’s seven council members have been in office longer than three years. (Councilman Rick Hansen was on the council in the 1980s, but returned just two years ago.)

If it’s fresh blood Puyallup residents are after, they are getting it the old-fashioned way: at the ballot box.

But even in Puyallup, incumbency does work a certain amount of magic. The two longest-serving members of the council – Don Malloy and Kathy Turner – have sometimes skated to re-election unopposed. Even when viable challengers do emerge, they face an uphill fight.

But the public shouldn’t hope for an entire council of unfamiliar faces. With years of service come the benefits of experience and tenure – something a city such as Puyallup, which has been averaging a new city manager every couple of years, can use.

Term limits don’t cure anything that can’t also be solved by vigorous campaigning by serious candidates for elected office. Puyallup doesn’t lack for spirited races – it fielded nine candidates for three council seats last year. That none bested a sitting council member can probably be attributed more to voter calculations about maintaining the balance of council factions than a judgment of the challengers’ strengths.

An advisory vote would allow the debate to finally play itself out. But the council should be wary of approving anything that favors churn for churn’s sake.

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