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Term limits going to ballot

Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers' measures get signature verification

Posted: Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Borough voters will decide this fall whether elected assembly and school board officials should be limited to two terms.

Borough Clerk Sherri Biggs verified signatures collected by members of the Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers (ACT) and said two ballot measures one applying to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, the other to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education would appear on the Oct. 2 municipal ballot.

If approved by voters, the following conditions, according to ACT, would be applied to future elected officials and to members now in office.

* Keep any person who has completed two consecutive terms on the assembly or school board from serving another term until three years had passed;

* Define the word "term" to mean any three-year term, or any portion of a regular term served by a person appointed to fill out an unexpired period of a vacated seat, as well as any term of less than three years because of a change in the size of the assembly or school board, its membership structure, districting or apportionment.

* Make the ordinances effective upon approval by voters and the certification of the results. It would apply to any current member whose second consecutive term ends in 2007, 2008 or 2009.

Biggs said Monday, however, that just what would or could legally happen should the ballot measures pass is "about as clear as mud."

The so-called "light" legal review of proposition language necessary to send a measure to the ballot is not as intensive as might be applied in court subsequent to an election. In June, Biggs told the initiatives' prime sponsor, Ninilchik resident Ruby Kime, the proposed ordinances raised constitutional concerns that could warrant a more in-depth, post-election analysis.

"Some of the concerns involve whether term limits are constitutional in light of the limitations they place on the fundamental right to vote and the length of time the initiative excludes an individual from running for office again," she said in June.

Following the addition of clarifying language, her concerns remain, Biggs said Monday.

Also of concern, she said, is how the language would be applied to a sitting incumbent already having served two terms or completing a second term if that person also was re-elected by constituents in the Oct. 2 municipal election.

According to Borough Attorney Colette Thompson, that official would not be able to assume his seat. The assembly or school board members would have to appoint someone within a month to serve until the next regular election.

Term limits currently apply to the borough mayor's job. No mayor having served two terms can run again for that office until at least 180 days have passed.

Kime said Monday she believes the language in the propositions dealing with assembly and school board members would meet any challenge. As to the question whether an incumbent who has served two terms but gets re-elected this fall can actually be seated, Kime said, "Somebody is going to have to sue somebody."

Biggs agreed.

Thompson said someone might to choose to challenge or even the winning elected official as a private citizen.

Not having to face a popular incumbent might encourage more people to run. On the other hand, it could force from office qualified, effective and re-electable lawmakers, raising the question whether term limits limit voters' rights to the candidates of their choice.

Voters set term limits for the two elected bodies in 1992 and 1993, but in 1999, about the time term-limit language would have begun affecting sitting members of the assembly and school board, the assembly voted to repeal the voter-approved laws. ACT has cited that action as thwarting the will of voters and used it to motivate efforts surrounding the current ballot initiatives.

Kime said while limiting terms has a downside, she believes the overall effect would be positive. For one thing, it would reduce a natural human tendency to want to fit in in this case, with the administrative arm of the government with whom the elected official has worked while in office. Kime worries that such officials lose touch with voter desires.

"That's just how people are. After two terms it is really hard for an elected person, no matter how good, to stand back and say, 'We have to do this differently,' and then find a way to do that. They've lost that fresh perspective. New people will bring in new ideas and freshen up the idea of limited government."

Thompson said a successful proposition would stand unless someone succeeded in getting a judgment or injunction against it.

Hal Spence can be reached at hspence@ptialaska.net.



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