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Proposed Ballot Measure Calls for Term Limits for Santa Monica Council Members
By Niki Cervantes
February 1, 2018 -- A relative newcomer to the Santa Monica City Council and the head of a city watchdog group on Monday filed notice they are seeking to put a measure on the November ballot limiting council members to three terms.
The bid to amend the City Charter limits each council member to three terms “whether consecutive or not,” and deems a partial term of more than two years as equaling one term (which is normally four years).
It was filed with the City Clerk’s Office Monday by Sue Himmelrich, who is the newest member of the council and up for re-election to a second term next fall, and Mary Marlow, who heads the Santa Monica Transparency Project, an all-volunteer City Hall watchdog organization.
Once the measure’s language is cleared by officials, proponents would have six months, or 180 days, to gather signatures. Under City law, the measure would require about 6,500 valid signatures, or 10 percent of all registered voters.
It does not apply to the terms of elected officials for other public entities within Santa Monica, such as board members for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District or the trustees of Santa Monica College.
It also only applies to council terms of office which begin on, or after, the election, if the amendment is adopted.
The limits would also apply to council members who were either appointed or elected to their seats.
An idea that has been batted around on and off for many years in Santa Monica, imposing term limits nonetheless has little support among the City’s council incumbents.
In addition to Himmelrich, Council members Kevin McKeown, who is serving his 20th year on the council, and Pam O’Connor, who is serving her 24th year, face re-election in November.
Both have voiced opposition often, saying such changeover robs government of experienced leadership and institutional knowledge, among other arguments.
Himmelirch, however, favored term limits as she ran for her first council term.
She was elected in 2014, making her the newest among her council colleagues.
In a Lookout story on the issue that year, she expressed her support of term limits, although at the time her suggested cap was four terms.
“Most of the studies of term limits have involved ‘career politicians,’ which our City members are not (or should not be) since they are part-time employees who presumably have a day job,” Himmelrich said then.
“Nevertheless, the absence of term limits is reflected in the votes of purported progressive council members who lean over time towards outside special interest groups.
"I therefore would favor term limits of 4 terms. I hereby pledge that if I am elected, I will not seek a third term. Ever,” she said.
A letter by Himmelrich and Marlow attached to the notice to circulate petitions noted council incumbents seldom lose.
“In the most recent 2016 municipal election, 100% of the incumbents for Santa Monica City Council were reelected,” it said. “And over the past 25 years, City Council incumbents in Santa Monica have been reelected again and again at an overwhelming rate.
"That is because, unlike many other jurisdictions in California, our City imposes no limits whatsoever on how many terms Councilmembers can serve.”
California has established term limits for its statewide elected officers (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Treasurer, Attorney General, Controller, Secretary of State, Insurance Commissioner, and Superintendent of Public Institution), and its Senate and Assembly legislators.
Cities across the state and throughout Los Angeles County have also imposed term limits on their elected officials.
“Term limits give voters a real chance for change and bring in fresh perspectives and ideas," the letter said. "Term limits encourage potential candidates to run and foster healthy competition. That is why they are so popular in the county and the state.
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