NORTH ROYALTON – For the second time in a little over a year, the topic of eliminating term limits for elected officials has been raised with council split on the issue.
This was first brought forward by Ward 6 Councilman Dan Kasaris, chair of the Review and Oversight Committee in May 2017.
The issue never went anywhere. Kasaris said then he felt the city should focus attention on passage of the EMS levy, ultimately OK’d by voters this past November.
Kasaris is one of four elected officials – Ward 1 Councilman John Nickell, Ward 2 Councilman Gary Petrusky and Mayor Bob Stefanik – termed out as of Dec. 31, 2019.
Elected officials in North Royalton, per the city charter, may only serve 12 consecutive years in one particular seat. This is a restriction most government bodies do not have, including the North Royalton Board of Education.
Kasaris pointed out that in the past 13 to 18 years, most incumbents have been challenged with three of the challengers winning, people have left office and someone has died in office. The dais has seen three or four different elected officials serving in a few of the seats since 2005 alone, he said, so there has been a natural turnover of power.
“This isn’t the swamp. We’re not entrenched in a lifestyle of special benefits, who pass laws under pressure from lobbyists and who tend to benefit themselves. We are people who have other jobs, who are doing what we do because we love it,” Kasaris said.
City council hasn’t always been term restricted.
Up until 1995, there were no term limits in Royalton, but the mid-1990s and early 2000s were arguably a tumultuous time. Term limits were a way to prevent stagnation.
Charter amendments, such as this, must be voted on by residents. Term limits 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. They were extended to 12 years in 2008, which residents supported at the polls.
Former Ward 5 Councilwoman Cathy Shelko, who supported enacting term limits in the ‘90s, attended the meeting and said she now regrets term limits.
“ ... the biggest mistake I ever made was passing term limits because quite frankly you are insulting the American voter by saying, ‘we don’t trust you to make that decision’,” she said. “We were caught up in the fervor of the ‘90s … the hope that we would ultimately get to put term limits on Congress and we felt we couldn’t ask Congress to have term limits if we didn’t have term limits.”
In order to place the elimination of term limits on the ballot for residents to decide, there will have to be a super-majority vote from council with five of the seven members supporting placing it on the ballot. Council appeared to be split 4-3 during the July 17 meeting with Kasaris, Petrusky, Ward 4 Councilman Paul Marnecheck and Ward 5 Councilwoman Cheryl Hannan in favor of voters deciding on the issue.
“Voters’ choices are restricted when a candidate is barred from being on the ballot,” Hannan said. “If anyone wants to limit a politician’s term in office that can be accomplished by voting the politician out. Term limits come at an additional cost. Experience is forced to the exits. Running a city is a learned skill. As in other professions, experience matters.”
Term limits particularly impact mayors, Stefanik said, because senior mayors with insight are able to serve on regional boards which can bring back funding to their own municipality.
“Look at some of your successful cities, the mayor has served a long time,” he said.
Stefanik added he will retire at the end of his term regardless.
Nickell and Antoskiewicz were against placing this on the ballot, and both made mention of their plans to run for the mayor’s seat next year. Nickell said incumbents with a ‘war chest’ can stifle new blood. Antoskiewicz said residents aren’t urging him to reverse limits even when they hear four are termed out.
Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw vehemently opposes this issue, believing it to be pushed through last minute.
“I think it was wise to at least have a check and balance with the local government here,” he said. “If this was a major issue, why wasn’t this brought up earlier? ... This is serious business … the charter should not be changed on a whim.”
Members will be gathering feedback from their constituents via social media and/or face to face during the August recess during the bicentennial events and at home days.
Preliminary polling on council social media pages indicate, from residents that responded, that they would not support abolishing term limits.
In order to make it on the November ballot, council would have to vote on the legislation by Sept. 7 and may require a special council meeting after the Sept. 4 meeting where it will be on second reading unless the three readings are waived.