Given the overwhelming public support for term limits, a Sarasota Tiger Bay Club panelist said Oct. 6 that she did not believe county voters would approve a new referendum broadening the length of time the county commissioners could serve, regardless of the popularity of current commissioners.
If the Florida Supreme Court upholds an August ruling by the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Florida regarding a Broward County term limits case, a 1998 Sarasota County referendum that restricted commissioners to two terms could end up being enforced, John Patterson, president of the club, explained during the program.
Bob Waechter, former chairman of the Sarasota County Republican Party, pointed out during the question-and-answer portion of the meeting that Commissioner Jon Thaxton is seeking his fourth term on the board and “the people love him.”
Waechter added, “We have an informed electorate in Sarasota County (and) we have people kind of happy with the way things are being done.” Yet, the Supreme Court action could put the county “at risk of losing a very experienced County Commission,” he said.
“A lot of things have changed since 1998,” Waechter added, saying he felt a new referendum could expand the terms to a maximum of three for the county commissioners.
However, Susan MacManus, a professor of public administration and political science at the University of South Florida, said polls showed little support for broadening term limits. When she asked for a show of hands among the 250 audience members regarding their view, the majority favored term limits.
“I think my poll stands,” MacManus said.
Earlier, she had told the audience, “This county has some good people … that people would like to vote in, if they had the opportunity.” Recent polls have shown that 70% to 80% of Americans favor term limits, she added.
Yet, panelist David Persson, attorney for the town of Longboat Key, said during the program, “The closer the form of government is to the people, the less attractive term limits seem to be.”
However, Persson said he had seen term limits result in “a subtle transition of power from the elected official to the appointed official.” After being forced out of elected office, such as a seat in the Legislature, Persson said, people often pursue the position of town manager or town attorney, and their background leads to them “being a little more powerful than they should be (in those jobs) … That’s one of the real concerns I have at the local level.”
Regarding the Legislature, for which the limit of two consecutive terms won approval in 1992, panelist Lisa Carlton of Osprey, a former state senator, said she felt the staff had assumed more power. Moreover, she said, once a new legislator walks in the doors, that person already is planning his exit, “and I think (that) has taken away a little bit of the stability” in government.
Carlton said running the state was akin to running a $70 billion business. Who would citizens prefer their state leaders be, she asked: people who understand policy and budgets or newcomers who have limited experience?
Commission seeks term limits charter change
The Sarasota County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to ask County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh to draft language for a county charter amendment calling for a maximum of three terms before a commissioner would have to step down from the board.
Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson pointed out during the regular meeting, held at the R.L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice, that if the Florida Supreme Court upholds an appellate court decision that would force county commissions to abide by term limits, she and Commissioner Jon Thaxton both could be affected.
Patterson is serving her fourth term on the board; Thaxton has filed to seek re-election to his fourth term during the 2012 County Commission races.
Commissioner Carolyn Mason made the motion for the amendment.
The county charter was amended in 1998 to limit County Commission terms to two terms; subsequent court action rendered that moot. However, Commissioner Christine Robinson pointed out that the Supreme Court action could reinstate those limits. The charter change proposed Tuesday, she said, “would take effect going forward” from a Supreme Court ruling.
Without the county action, DeMarsh said, the court ruling could come down after a filing period was closed, and a candidate’s name might have to be struck from the ballot.
Mason asked that the draft language be presented during one of the board’s meetings later this month. If approved by the commission, county citizens would have to vote on the charter change.