Metro Council: Smaller, Longer, or Uncut?

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In this week's issue we report that the Metro Council is likely to consider a proposed charter amendment that would extend term limits for council members, and that such a proposal could even include shrinking the council.

Two potential charter amendments are in the works that would extend term limits. One would change the limit to three four-year terms. The other would extend the limit to four terms, while also shrinking the council to a yet-to-be determined number.

Council attorney Jon Cooper tells the Scene that legal work is still being done, and that neither of the potential amendments has been drafted yet. He says they will likely be ready for consideration by the council in April and, if passed with 27 votes, will appear on the August ballot.

Cooper says it's very early in the process, and council members interested in the issue say the particulars of the amendments — and the determination of which proposal should go before the voters — still need to be worked out.

Voters passed a charter amendment in 2008 to clarify that district council seats and at-large seats are different offices for the purposes of term-limits. As it stands now, an individual could serve two four-year terms as a district council member and then, if elected, serve two more four-year terms as an at-large member. Cooper kindly clarified for the Scene that a term limit extension would not change that. So, if the charter were amended to extend term limits to, say, three terms, a person could serve for up to 12 years as a district council member and then 12 years as an at-large member (or vice versa).

As they say in the story, At-Large Councilman Charlie Tygard and Councilwoman Emily Evans both want to extend term-limits to allow members time to gain more experience. Evans says it takes more than eight years for someone to be as effective as possible as a legislator, and Tygard argues that a council with more collective experience would provide a stronger check against the power of the current mayor or any other.

The two differ somewhat on how they'd like to change things. Evans prefers a four-term limit that would go into effect immediately — though she insists she wouldn't run again — and wants shrink the 40-member council to a size that's yet to be determined. Tygard says he could live with a four-term limit, although he says three terms would be easier to sell to voters. He would have such a change delayed until 2019, so that it doesn't effect any current members.

As for the size of the council — it's one of the largest in the country — Tygard says he agrees that 40 members is too many, but says linking that change with term limits might make it harder for such an amendment to win the approval of the council and the voters.

"We may need to file “competing” Charter Amendments to see if the Council would put either on the ballot," he says.

Now that sounds fun.

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