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Should Arlington City Council members have more time in office? Officials might ask voters to decide

Arlington's logo of an "A" fitted into a star emblazons the cream-colored council chamber building that sits outside Arlington City Hall.
Neetish Basnet
/
Fort Worth Report
Arlington City Council and Mayor Jim Ross discussed changes to council term lengths Aug. 2, 2022.

Arlington voters may decide whether their city council members and mayor can serve three additional years in office.

The proposal, preliminarily discussed Tuesday afternoon, could lengthen council terms from two years to three and keep the three-term limit on local offices if voters approve the proposal in November.

The request comes at the behest of a July email campaign from residents who say current term limits strain council members who have to run for office every other year and keep them from gaining enough experience to effectively govern.

"We are losing our council members just as they are getting comfortable and beginning to fully understand what it takes to run a city the size of Arlington," writes Larry Fowler, who spearheaded the campaign. "How many businesses do you know that will invest the time and effort to educate its management team only to fire them at the end of six years?"

Council members who spoke during the meeting agreed.

District 8 council member Barbara Odom-Wesley says she's learned from speaking with officials across the United States that Arlington's term limits are among the most restrictive.

"It takes awhile just to get up to speed on what the job is and then you have to run again in two years," she says.

Mayor Jim Ross says the discussion and potential vote would not be a "term limits issue."

"All this is is term lengths. (We're) not changing anything about limits other than the lengths of the terms," he says.

Voters approved term limits in 2018, but the debate on lengths and limits has stretched in the following years. The city in summer 2020 formed a task force to study term limits across North Texas cities and recommend alternatives to the six-year deadline.

The task force, which drew ire from the residents who gathered enough petition signatures to place the question on the 2018 ballot, said during the debate that the committee disrespected the 2018 vote. Committee supporters argued that voters did not have a choice at the ballot between term limit options.

The 24-member body proposed mayor and council observe four two-year terms. The task force also suggested a two-year “cooling off” period, which would require candidates who’ve termed out to sit out for two years before seeking reelection.

City council accepted the recommendations, but have not taken the recommendations to the voters.

Andrew Piel, District 4 council member, says those who supported term limits in order to bring new, more diverse voices to city council should support lengthening terms. Elections every other year may price would-be candidates out of elections.

"I think that we can look at people in the eye and say, 'Look, making this change not only will provide stability, but allow more people to have the ability to run for city council and increase access,'" Piel says.

Fowler says he's happy council took up his and others' suggestions.

"I haven't heard anybody come up with a reason on why a shorter term, a two-year term, is better than three years," he says.

Piel offered to run for a third and final two-year term as opposed to a three-year one next spring, when his seat is up for election, as well as seats in districts 3, 5 and 8. Voters will also decide the mayoral election.

Ross asked District 3 council member Nikkie Hunter and Rebecca Boxall in District 5 to decide among themselves who would take another two-year term in order to stagger three seats per election year, rather than continue the current system that alternates between four and five seats per election season. If approved, voters would decide on one at-large city council seat per election cycle.

Council may vote whether to place term limits on the ballot Aug. 9 in order to file for a place on the ballot by Aug. 22.

Got a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at kbroussard@kera.org. You can follow Kailey on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.

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Kailey Broussard is a reporter for KERA and The Texas Newsroom through Report for America (RFA). Broussard covers the city of Arlington, with a focus on local and county government accountability.