South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Charter Commission sets public hearing for May 17

Residents’ comments about term limits and other issues will be sought by the Crestwood Charter Review Commission when it conducts a public hearing next month.

The public hearing will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 17, in the Alderman-ic Chamber at City Hall, 1 Detjen Drive.

The city’s Charter Review Commission began meeting in mid-February and met for the fourth time last week. Besides reviewing the City Charter section by section, members have identified several issues they believe need further discussion and public comment, including term limits.

The City Charter, approved by voters on Nov. 7, 1995, states, “From time to time, but not less than every 10 years, the mayor and Board of Aldermen shall provide for a Charter Review Committee to consider whether any amendments to this charter are appropriate.”

Under the charter, the commission has up to 12 months to complete its work and submit any proposed amendments it deems necessary to the Board of Aldermen. Voters would have to approve any charter changes. Commission members also could decide that no changes are needed.

Commission member David Brophy first raised the issue of term limits at the panel’s March 1 meeting, noting that when the charter was adopted nearly 10 years ago he was a proponent of term limits. However, as some of the city’s aldermen are nearing their term limits, Brophy said he is rethinking his previous support of term limits for aldermen — but not for the mayor.

Under the charter, the mayor and aldermen are limited to serving three successive three-year terms, not including time served to complete an unexpired term. After serving three consecutive terms, a mayor cannot serve in that position for three years, while an alderman serving three full terms then is prohibited from serving as an alderman in that ward for three years, the charter states.

“I think that this is potentially the most controversial and in need of the most discussion of virtually any issue that’s going to be before the commission,” Brophy said March 1. “I think it’s going to have to be discussed several times at length with the public present … and that is the issue of term limits, particularly with respect to aldermen. I think that in most types of government, the executive is commonly term limited. The president, the governor and so on are very commonly term limited, but it becomes very questionable as to whether term limits are often applied to the legislative branch and, in this case, the aldermen are the legislative branch.

“And to give you a little bit of history and background on it, back at the time of the original Charter Commission, I was a vehement proponent of term limits for this charter and (former Alderman) John McGowan, who was on the Charter Commission at that time, was as well if I’m not mistaken … At the time 10 years ago, it happened to be very politically popular to be in support of term limits. And, further, it was oftentimes an uncertain situation other than from the standpoint of principle as to what the real effects of term limits would be over a period of time.

“The situation, as I recall, was that because it was so controversial 10 years ago, it was put on the ballot as a separate issue, which if my memory serves me correctly, was supported by the voters by approximately 75 percent of the voters of the city of Crestwood. And I may be wrong, but I think it even pulled more votes than the charter itself. I may be wrong on that …,” Brophy said.

“… What our situation is currently is that we have eight aldermen serving potentially three terms each for a total of nine years and we stand to risk in a very short period of time periodically of losing the majority of the experience on the Board of Aldermen with the term limits as they’re currently structured,” Brophy said. “And it worries me be-cause some may say that there’s a need for an institutional memory. Well, I think that there is a need for an institutional ability to get things done. So therefore, I think that we need to discuss very seriously and in depth how to change potentially the term limits, if need be, to either include more terms or to do away with them or whether we want to change them at all.

“But I personally view the situation of a change in a majority of the Board of Aldermen at any particular time as being a very unstable governmental situation. Novice people to be effective as an alderman, I believe most people would recognize and accept that it takes a year to 18 months to gain the knowledge and competence and the abilities to function properly as an alderman. So therefore this area of terms and particularly term limits, I think we’re going to need to discuss and discuss it amongst the commission as a whole and with the public. I think it’s a very critical area and especially at this point because it’s become very plain to me over the two or three years that we stand the risk of losing the majority of the Board of Aldermen, replaced by people with no experience,” he said.

Commission member and Ward 4 Alderman Pat Duwe, who also served on the original Charter Commission, said, “… Half of the aldermen, half of the board could be people that have never served before.”

Of the current board, Ward 1 Alderman Richard LaBore and Ward 2 Alderman Tim Trueblood would be ineligible to run after their current terms expire in April 2006, while Ward 1 Alderman Richard Breeding and Duwe would be ineligible to run after their current terms expire in April 2007.

Brophy said, “I would also like to point out with respect to the composition of the board that term limits could be very detrimental. We’re fortunate enough currently to have a diversity of backgrounds of people who are qualified professionally and so on and so forth, but we’re a small community. We have less than 12,000 citizens and less than 9,000 voters if I’m not mistaken and to find people who are willing to put forth what it takes to be an effective alderman and to serve this community and to not only be willing to do it, but to have the skills and the time and so on … I think it’s questionable whether we can replace people easily.

“I’m not at this point suggesting one solution or another or one approach or another, I’m saying we’ve got to discuss this issue,” he added.

Commission member John Bell later said that he’d be very “disinclined” to put term limits to another vote when the term limits in the original City Charter have yet to take effect.

After further discussion, commission Chairman Jim Bras-field, a former mayor and alderman, said he would place the topic of term limits on a future agenda. The issue was discussed again last week.

During the March 29 meeting, Brophy again noted the possibility of having more than a majority of the Board of Aldermen with no aldermanic experience.

“I think that this is a question which maybe I’m blowing out of proportion the consequences, but I think it’s something we better consider,” he said.

Regarding the impact of term limits, commission member Carol Wagner said, “I think that the state of the Mis-souri experienced that very negatively … It was a very serious problem because they had a bunch of new legislators that didn’t have a clue to what was going on …”

She added, “… I think you’re very well on target because you do have to have some experience. You have to have experienced people to set some guidelines and to set some decorum and whatever.”

Commission Vice Chairman Pat Kapsar said, “I’m just going to be the devil’s advocate and that is you can have that any time. When you have the whole process of election, you can have someone run against the incumbent and win. And when the state went into their term limits, that was a big change for that particular time and with change, you always have a certain amount of some think it’s chaos, but then it starts leveling out. I’m not saying I’m for or against, but I think the process is that we potentially could always have that happen …”

Commission member Rich Bland said, “And I agree with that. There’s no way term limits or lack thereof can address all possible things, deaths, retirements, deciding not to run again as an incumbent. But I think there are two different things. I think you have those issues, which are very real issues … that (create) a natural number of vacancies. But then you also are creating an artificial number of vacancies, which at the state level it was significant. I think it does eventually level out, but you’re talking about a lot of people representing a lot of interests around the state. Here it’s a pretty narrow number of people and you have say five new aldermen or just let’s say just four … I think that may be a bigger impact from a growing-pains standpoint.”

Kapsar said, “… You still always have that risk. I mean that’s the whole process …”

Bland said, “… And that’s what I’m saying, you have that in place already without term limits and by adding term limits in as they are now, I think you’re adding to that, that unknown and creates a larger unknown or potentially a larger unknown. Because let’s say term limits are off the table … Say two of your incumbent aldermen don’t get re-elected. Say you may have another al-derman retire. You still have turnover there without having the term limits. But now you start adding term limits and you accelerate the process of incumbents not being able to run again. Then you add in retirements and other issues and maybe somebody takes another job, moves out of the area and has to resign and I could see the potential for a mess.”

Duwe said, “That’s why we decided to put it on the ballot. We couldn’t decide either.”

Brasfield said, “If I remember correctly, the majority of the Charter Commission was not in favor of term limits …”

Duwe noted that the commission’s decision on term limits was to “let the people decide” the issue.

Brophy later said, “I think once again this is something which the public may provide us with some insight or direction as to what we really do because maybe we’ll get a sense as to whether the public’s view has changed at the May meeting or whether it has stayed the same, whether they share the same concerns about stability of government and so on. I think that I have developed a kind of real concern in a sense of legislative history that the training and experience of legislative people is very hard to replace, very hard to replace. And I’m afraid that in a nine-year cycle, I think that it may just really be developing in some instances that there are people that we really want to keep and we can’t … I think we need public input in our discussion …”

Kapsar agreed with the need for public comments.

“… The other thing that I would be in favor of if we do decide that we want to entertain that again, that it be put to the vote, which would have to (happen) anyway, but it would be separated off again because I don’t think it’s fair to put something like term limits in with a revision of the charter,” she said.

Brophy said, “I agree.”

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