Oregon City Council is again considering placing a charter change on the fall ballot to extend their time in office from two years to four-year, staggered terms.
Oregon voters have overwhelmingly defeated similar proposals in the past.
Currently, all seven council members are up for re-election every two years.
Council at a committee of the whole meeting last Monday voted 6-1 to forward the proposed legislation on next Monday’s council meeting agenda. Council will vote on the matter at the next three regular council meetings.
If passed by council, the matter would then go on the November 6 ballot so voters can decide whether to change the city charter, which dictates that council shall serve two-year terms.
According to the proposed charter change, three council members who received the largest number of votes at the November, 2013 general election would start to serve four-year terms on Dec. 1, 2013. The remaining four on council would serve two-year terms until November, 2015, when the election called for four-year terms.
“I’m not a supporter of this proposal,” said Councilman Jerry Peach, who voted against putting it on next Monday’s council meeting agenda. “During my tenure on council, this issue has come up at least twice. The question of four-year terms has come before the voters, and in each case, the voters have rejected the notion of four-year terms, indicating it’s not their desire to change the term of council from two years to four years, and that it was their desire to continue as we have. It seems to be a system that has worked for people in this city. In 2002, which was the last time it went before voters, it was rejected by 741 votes, which I think is substantial. I don’t think this is a necessary change to the charter. I’m unaware of any community outcry that the terms of council are too short.”
“I have no problem with your position, Mr. Peach,” said Council President Tom Susor. “However, my position is to move the city forward on a more consistent basis, where a councilman wouldn’t be running every other year for an election, where he’d have a chance to bring what could be considered controversial legislation or programs in, to be able to get those programs through and see them through their fruition where you could see changes could be made for the positive. We’re continually looking to this area for growth and direction. I think this will help council make a more significant impact on legislation when they have time to work on that legislation.”
Susor said four-year terms would allow council to become more involved in the issues if they don’t have to run every two years.
“The worse thing in running for council is the fact you have to run,” said Susor. “When you get on council, it’s interesting and exciting, and there’s a lot of things you can do. But when you got to step back and start your election process again, every other year, it detracts from what your purpose is, and your purpose isn’t just to get elected. Your purpose is to make meaningful change and legislate direction that’s positive to the community. I think we need to move in that direction. We’re the last of the communities around to not have four-year staggered terms. At least put it up to the voters, let them have another go at it. I think if it’s the only charter change on the ballot, then it gets its due course and the citizens can weigh it accordingly. I am certainly in favor of it.”
Susor, who was elected to council last November, had served one term on council in the early 1990s before he was defeated for re-election.
“I think the most important role of council,” said Peach, “is to make good decisions. I don’t think the length of the term affects the quality of decisions – they’re either good decisions or they’re not. The U.S. House of Representatives have two-year terms. Representatives of the General Assembly in the State of Ohio have terms of two years. I suspect there are some people in the community who wish there were only one-year terms. But I think the system that we have in Oregon has been working well, and I don’t think it’s necessary to put this question before voters once again.”
Councilman Dennis Walendzak said voters should have the opportunity to vote on the measure.
“If it’s the will of the voters to vote it down, then they will vote it down. But at least they’ll have an opportunity to vote their opinion,” said Walendzak.
“Of course, they had an opportunity to vote it down in 1990 and they voted it down in 2002,” said Peach.
Mayor Mike Seferian, who was on council for years before being elected mayor in 2008, said he understood the limited time members have on council before they have to begin their campaigns for re-election.
“However, I always recognized that as a right of the public to have that ability to watch someone’s performance over two years,” said Seferian.
In communities that have four year terms, voters have had to wait four years before voting an elected official out of office, added Seferian.
“I’ve experienced some things in other communities where I think if they didn’t have four-year terms, it could have resulted in a total replacement of certain elected officials. The public might have resented having those four-year terms. I was one who never did support four-year terms in the past. I do think going from a two-year to four-year term has a cost in the way [voters] express their voice in who they choose to represent them. I am not in favor of it,” said Seferian.