Arlington voters will decide city council term lengths, 6 years after passing strict term limits
Arlington City Council term lengths are once again headed to the ballot Nov. 8.
The unanimous Tuesday final vote followed tense public comments evenly split between those in favor and against the ballot proposal.
Several opposition speakers questioned the rush and the community engagement that went into drafting the ballot language. Council first took up the debate during its Aug. 2 work session.
Arlington NAACP President Alisa Simmons noted that over 11,000 people signed the 2018 term limits referendum that resulted in Arlington's current three two-year terms. She asked for the number of email respondents asking the issue be placed on the ballot.
"How many people reached out and said this is this important?" she asked.
A KERA News records request for emails to city council and mayor containing the phrases "term limit" or "term length" between July 20 and Aug. 11 returned messages from 17 people. Most were succinct statements that concurred with Larry Fowler, who sent out an email requesting people write city council about term lengths.
"The ordinance has been in place long enough that we have now been able to see its impact on our city. I believe what we have discovered is that a two-year term for our council members is too short," Fowler wrote.
Howard Porteus, who works for the Nehemiah Company, wrote back a simple "we agree." He expanded on the concurring statement Tuesday evening.
"There's no one up here that doesn't do a good job and devote a lot of time, but the process of learning what it takes to be an effective council member is deterred by having to just immediately run," he says.
Representatives with Arlington Professional Firefighters Association and Arlington Police Association also spoke in support of the ballot question.
Luis Castillo, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens' Arlington chapter, says proponents of putting the question to the voters represented business and organizational interest —not the community interest.
"To hold public office is to hold public trust," he says. "The general public doesn't trust the council, and that's why they came up with six years max."
Helen Moise, District 1 council member, says she understands where opposition speakers are coming from. However, she says council has experienced higher turnover since 2018 because people underestimated the requirements of the seat, paired with little pay and frequent reelection.
"Right now, it's a constant turnover, and I'd like to see us have a chance to work," Moise says.
Andrew Piel, who represents District 4, says he believes adding an extra year would make it easier for people to run.
"I firmly believe that if this passes, a three-year term will increase diversity on the council even more than it already has," Piel says.
Piel and Mayor Jim Ross have disagreed with the sentiment that addressing term lengths and limits has been rushed. They cited the council-appointed Term Limits Advisory Committee in 2020 as the beginning of the discussion. The committee recommended proposing four two-year terms and the option for officeholders to run again two years after being termed out.
Chad Bates, who chaired council's Term Limits Advisory Committee, agreed in an email that the city should lengthen council terms, but warned them against broaching the question during midterms.
"This November election is definitely shaping up to be a contentious election, and having the original ill conceived and restrictive language we have now on the November ballot in the past is part of the reason we have the current mess," Bates wrote.
Stephen Zimmer, a committee member, wrote the council in support of changing term lengths July 20.
Supporters of the 2018 push to institute term limits have hinted towards launching an opposition campaign to the ballot measure.
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