Oregon City Council tabled a vote on a proposed charter change until July 9 so that it can be placed on the fall ballot.
The charter amendment would allow council to extend their term of office to four years from their present two year terms. The amendment would also stagger the terms so that all seven members would not be up for re-election at the same time.
Oregon voters have overwhelmingly defeated similar proposals in the past.
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.
Law Director Paul Goldberg said charter amendments have to be submitted to the board of elections no later than 60 days from when council acted on the measure, but no sooner than 120 days prior to a general election.
“You certainly could do other than that,” said Goldberg, “but then there would have to be a special election.”
“We certainly don’t want to do that,” said Council President Tom Susor.
Administrator Mike Beazley said the time frame for council to act is between July 8 and September 8.
Council agreed to July 9 to pass the measure in time to have it placed on the November 6 ballot.
P.J. Kapfhammer, a member of the Oregon school board, said the current two year term was preferable for city council members because they are more accountable to the public.
“I think four year terms are a bad idea. I understand that running every two years is a lot of work,” said Kapfhammer. “But I also think it keeps us more accountable to our public. I’m part of a four year term right now. If I could, I’d change our policies to two year terms. Because I’ve been around it enough to know that it’s hurting us. We have no accountability. We can’t get along.”
He also said staggered terms cause divisions.
“That’s what I’ve already had a taste of, and it’s not a very fun taste,” said Kapfhammer, who, along with Jeff Ziviski, was elected to the school board last November. He and Ziviski vote in the minority on most issues with the board. “I think that’s the problem we’re having with the schools right now. I would love to go to two year terms. Because then you would be accountable for the things you’ve done. And people would change positions. I know that for a fact. I think everyone up there can agree on that, too. So every reason why you’d want four year terms - because you could deal with more critical things and you could get more accomplished and not worry about getting re-elected - that’s why you are elected. It’s a privilege and honor to be on the ballot every two years because you work for this public, just like I do. And if you’re doing something that they’re not happy with, you should answer to that every two years. I think we’ve had great success in the city because it’s done that way. I understand the pain and hassle running every two years. But it’s an honor and privilege and you’ve earned the right to sit here every two years.”
Councilman Dennis Walendzak said there are communities doing well in northwest Ohio that have staggered four year terms.
“And it doesn’t mean we’re trying to distance ourselves from the community in any way. I disagree with that notion. I don’t think we have a problem working together. I think this is a good council, a good mix of people. I think we work well with the mayor that we have now also,” said Walendzak.
Kapfhammer asked Walendzak to name the benefits of four year terms.
“We have a chance to take a hold of issues that most people won’t take in a two year period of time because they are worried about their next election,” said Walendzak.
“You’ll get rid of accountability,” said Kapfhammer. “You’re saying you are not having issues because you are afraid of getting elected.”
“Every election is accountability,” said Walendzak. “There may be certain council members who aren’t willing to take an issue and deal with it because they are afraid of not getting re-elected.”
Susor said he did not think four year terms are causing problems on the school board.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with four year terms,” said Susor. “That school board has run well and run poorly for a lot of different reasons and a lot of different years. This group has functioned fine over the vast majority of the time. But people have studied the four year term scenario, and it stated that it reduces politicking and encourages collaboration.”
Mayor Mike Seferian said he is opposed to four year terms.
“I do think it is a big deal. It is the voice of the public. Council is the people’s representative to the city. So people would be giving up part of their voice,” Seferian said of four year terms. Two year terms, he added, have “worked very well for the city.”
“I do believe if something isn’t broke, why are we altering it?”