Arlington groups planning 'biggest oppositional campaign' as council takes up term lengths
Groups that pushed for term limits on Arlington City Council members and mayor in 2018 plan to oppose a new measure likely headed to voters' ballots this November.
Arlington City Council will vote Tuesday evening on a ballot measure that, if voters approve it, would expand city council term lengths from two years to three.
Under the change, council members and mayor could serve up to nine years at each post. City council unanimously approved the ballot question during their Aug. 9 evening meeting.
Meanwhile, Zachary Maxwell says, he and others are planning the "biggest oppositional campaign that the city's seen" to fight it this fall and exploring whether to campaign for a recall amendment.
Maxwell led the 2018 referendum to put council's current term limits, which cap elected officials at six years on city council and six years as mayor. Around 63% of voters in 2018 approved the current limits.
However, the debate didn't end on election day four years ago.
A state district judge in 2018 threw out a lawsuit that sought to invalidate the 2018 results, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. City council in 2020 organized a term limits task force, which recommended four two-year terms with a two-year "cooling off" period as an alternative. Council did not take up the recommendation. Council members in late July received emails from people asking council consider three-year term lengths.
Maxwell says the vote marks the third time council has tried to make changes after the November 2018 election.
"I think my initial reaction was somewhere in the ballpark of, 'Here we go again,' because this is just another example of council doing something that appears to be a very rushed, self-serving decision that was not taken to the public at all before it was put to a ballot," he says.
Council, who has publicly discussed the proposal since Aug. 2, say their efforts are not rushed and that the ballot question will not do away with term limits.
Andrew Piel, District 4 council member, said during a work session that people have had time to voice their concerns since the committee's formation in 2020.
"Those people fail to acknowledge we had a very long, painful committee that went through this, weeks on end for months, that came up with this recommendation in part," Piel said. "If anything, we fell behind the curve by not acting when that committee delivered its recommendations."
Rebecca Boxall, who represents District 5, says she's heard from people dissatisfied the council is pushing for the issue to appear on the November ballot.
"I think we need to be at least somewhat careful about just saying, 'Well, their opinion doesn't matter about when it gets on the ballot,'" she said.
Mayor Jim Ross disagreed.
"I don't see the benefit of delaying putting this on the ballot whatsoever in any way, shape or form," he said. Ross added that voters get the final say in November, but council must vote on whether to put forward the ballot question before the state deadline to file Aug. 22.
Nevertheless, leaders with other groups have joined Maxwell in questioning the timing.
Arlington NAACP President Alisa Simmons implored in an email newsletter to members to call city council officials and show up to meetings.
"The citizens have spoken!" Simmons wrote. "They voiced their support FOR TERM LIMITS, just four years ago. WHY is the issue of term limits back on the agenda? Power thirsty politicians are the reason."
Simmons did not respond to a text requesting an interview.
Council first broached the issue in early August after receiving emails asking them to consider expanding terms to three years and placing a question on the ballot. Council members who spoke during the discussion said representatives need more time to learn their positions and govern effectively, and that the two-year terms mean people are constantly campaigning.
Luis Castillo, president of Arlington League of United Latin American Citizens, says council has not offered any data or evidence that current term limits hinder governance.
"If it was broken, I could understand it, but it's not," he says. "It's about power. That's all it is."
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