NORTH ROYALTON – Term limits are a restriction most government bodies do not have, including the North Royalton Board of Education, but something city hall elected officials face.
Very briefly, council entertained the idea of eliminating term limits through a ballot issue but has opted to leave them be.
The topic was broached at a special review and oversight committee meeting May 16. Ward 6 Councilman Dan Kasaris, R&O chair, was asked to place it on the committee agenda after a discussion between Ward 2 Councilman Gary Petrusky and Law Director Tom Kelly.
There are currently three senior councilmen who, if re-elected this year, will be termed out and unable to retain their seats when their terms expire Dec. 31, 2019: Petrusky, Kasaris and Ward 1 Councilman John Nickell. Mayor Bob Stefanik is also termed out then.
Kelly said during last week’s meeting he takes full responsibility for the topic’s resurrection. He said it’s been something weighing on his mind knowing officials will eventually be forced to leave but believing the current city council and mayor have brought stability and productivity to city government.
“Under the current conditions, if nothing changes come three years from now, three positions are forced out and that, to me, is a waste of talent and a waste of the opportunity that the people ought to have to retain elected officials if they want to do so,” he said.
Elected officials in North Royalton, per the city charter, may only serve 12 consecutive years in one particular seat, that’s six continuous two-year terms for ward seats and three four-year terms for council president and mayor.
It hasn’t always been this way.
Up until 1995, there were no term limits in Royalton, but the mid-1990s and early 2000s were unarguably a tumultuous time in the city. Term limits were a way to bring in “new blood” and prevent stagnation. Charter amendments such as the creation of term limits must be voted on by residents. They were originally stricter with a limit of eight consecutive years when introduced in 1995 by then Ward 1 Councilman Gary Barna and Mayor Gary Skorepa and OK’d by voters.
Term limits were extended to 12 years in 2008, which residents supported at the polls after being brought forward that year by the community-member lead Charter Review Commission which meets every four years to study the charter and recommend any amendments for the electorate to consider.
Kelly thought it worthy of discussion.
“The arguments in favor of artificial term limits are a complete and utter charade. We have term limits and they are called elections, and we have them every two years. I’m not confident the public will be persuaded but it is worthy of discussion and it’s a discussion that needs to be had,” he said.
Petrusky suggested changing ward terms from two years to four.
“In essence it keeps everyone on a four-year term like the mayor and council president. When someone tries to run against you, it takes you away from your duties … it takes away from your incumbent duties,” he said.
Ward 4 Councilman Paul Marnecheck said he was weighing everything and was unsure.
“I don’t know how I feel, but I’m leaning against the four years. I’m still thinking it through. Congress and state reps are two years,” he said.
Strongly against the issue is Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw who said he would not support a council-led charge for the elimination of term limits, that the better avenue for change would have been the Charter Review Commission bringing it forward last year rather than council.
“One of my favorite founding fathers, George Washington, knew when to hang it up for the good of the nation and that’s a good precedent to set,” he said. “I won’t support this. I think the better avenue is the charter review, which is independent, instead of it coming from us.”
“When George Washington stepped aside, he wasn’t term limited. The first term limited president was Dwight Eisenhower in 1960,” Kasaris interjected.
Lou Krzepina, who served as vice chair of charter review last year, was in attendance and said term limits were one of the first items the commission discussed, but it was dismissed just as quickly.
“I, for one, was opposed to term limits. You guys are doing a good job, what’s the point in moving someone out if they’re doing a good job. But, it was said that voters will never buy into it,” he told council.
Kasaris asked Kelly to formally draft legislation to propose eliminating term limits and discuss it at a second R&O meeting in June but decided against it after a few conversations following the meeting.
“I talked to Council President Larry Antoskiewicz and decided to pull it from committee and not entertain the idea,” he said. “Felt it would be better to focus our efforts on other issues: passing the very important safety levy and putting our efforts into keeping safety forces in tip-top shape.”