One of the items the City Council will take up tonight is the question of changing the length of the mayoral term from four years to two.
Prior to 1992, the mayor was directly elected every two years; only sitting members of the city council were eligible to run. In 1992, the charter was amended and the current system — four-year terms and allowing anyone to run for mayor — came into being.
At its September 26 meeting, the Charter Review Committee (CRC) voted 5-2 to change the mayoral term to two-years. The general sense of the CRC was that since the mayor is first-among-equals and the (at least) nominal head of city government – and possibly the only at-large city official in the near future — having to face the voters every two years renders that office more responsive to the voters.
None of the mayoral candidates support the recommendation. In the OC Register last week, Mayor Tom Tait said:
“There’s no need to revisit the issue of council term limits or the mayor’s term length, because they’ve already been decided by Anaheim voters,” said Mayor Tom Tait, who is seeking a second, four-year term this year.
“I’m skeptical of the rush to put these issues on the ballot,” Tait said. “Frankly, these changes seem rather self-serving.”
In August 2012, Mayor Tait urged the council to rush a single-member council districts measure onto the November 2012 ballot with little opportunity for public input – and at the behest of a few organized political pressure groups.
By way of contrast, this recommendation comes from duly constituted and appointed citizen commission over the course of several months.
The same argument made by the mayor could have been made in 1992: namely, the issue of the mayor’s term length had already been decided by the voters two decades earlier, and hence there was no need to re-visit the issue.
At the September 26 CRC meeting, committee member Thomas Dunn (the mayor’s appointee) addressed the issue of removing term limits from the charter, but the argument he makes could be directed against Mayor Tait’s objection:
“When we looked at term limits in 1999, at the last Charter Review Committee meeting, we were looking at it in a different time than we’re looking at it today. And what we thought the voters might want, at the time, at least in my experience, has changed dramatically from 1999 to 2013. So I think it is well to keep in mind that no matter what we recommend,if anything, that this is not going to change unless it goes back to the voters. So the voters, sure they did it before because that’s what we recommended, we made a recommendation that we thought was consistent with the needs of the time.”
“Let the people vote” isn’t a mantra that can be switched on and off like a light. The problem with that progressive nostrum is it has no self-limiting principle. It’s difficult to establish a track record of calling for a vote of the people on single-member districts or any TOT rebate agreement but then arbitrarily draw the line at changing mayoral term limits.