Nearly 30 years ago, a group of freeholders were elected by the people of Pierce County to craft a new form of county government. Larry Faulk was one of those elected freeholders and a member of the three person drafting committee.
The vehicle for accomplishing that goal was a new document called the Pierce County Charter. In the process of drafting the charter there were 52 public meetings where people listened to experts; questionnaires were sent out, the answers considered and the group studied other charters. The Freeholders met twice a week for six months, and on many occasions, considering so much testimony, meetings often lasted past midnight.
The issue of term limits became a cornerstone provision of the Pierce County Charter because Pierce County had a powerful and entrenched board of three commissioners, who executed power over both the legislative and executive responsibilities of government. Freeholders sought to correct that undue concentration of political influence by creating an elected county council for the legislative functions and an elected county executive for the executive branch.
The issue of term limits was never controversial because of input stating that Freeholders needed to create a county government truly of the people, by the people and for the people of Pierce County – rather than a government of political insiders and entrenched politicians.
That charter, approved by the people, limited the executive and county council to two consecutive terms in office. It was that resolve, to make government more open and inclusive for all, that made Pierce County the first county in the nation to establish term limits for its elected officials.
Today, it is the current Pierce County Council that has proposed 12 charter changes in the past three years. That brings the total of proposed amendments to 39 since our charter was voted into existence in 1980. The Constitution of The United States has only been amended 26 times in 222 years. The Pierce County Charter is a governing document and should be changed infrequently and only after much consideration and public debate. That has not happened since the council began proposing changes to the charter in 2007.
Now the Pierce County Council wants the voters to extend their own term limits. This is bad public policy and self serving. Extending term limits will return this county to a concentrated power of political insiders and entrenched politicians.
In crafting the Pierce County Charter, the Freeholders, established a limit of two terms for policy makers including the council and executive. It was a good balance. It was enough time then and it is enough time today, 29 years later.
Proposed Charter Amendment 1 also wants to change the election of council members and the county executive to odd numbered years. Again, the Freeholders considered that alternative and decided that elected official should be elected in even numbered years when statewide elected officials are on the ballot as well as candidates for Congress and the President. Election results over the years prove that more people turn out to vote in even year elections. By continuing to elect county council and county executive during even year elections, the charter provision ensures more voters elect those to powerful positions.
Beyond having more people vote, changing to odd year elections will cost Pierce County taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars extra. Currently, with the even year elections, the Federal Government pays for county wide elections. If elections are moved to odd years, the county taxpayers will have to foot the entire cost of the election which is estimated to cost $600,000. This is not a wise use of tax dollars in this time of budget cuts.
In 1980, the entrenched county commissioners were Democrats. In 2009, the Republicans are the entrenched majority on the county council. Clearly it does not matter which party it is, both Democrats and the Republicans are subject to the old adage about power corrupting – no reason to return to the tyranny of long-term incumbents who serve special interests over the public’s interest.
The Pierce County Charter named, “We the People” is a charter created by citizens not by elected officials. Extending terms to three terms distorts the checks and balances of our system and concentrates undue political influence in the hands of a few elected officials for way too long. Eight years is plenty to get the job done.
In summary, a representative government works best because of transparency, access, diversity and discussion. A limit of two consecutive terms in office provides for a balance of interests in office. It also opens up the system to greater participation by a more diverse group of people who represent different perspectives on county public policy making.
For these reasons, vote before November 3 and reject Charter Amendment 1.
Larry Faulk is one of the three people appointed by the Pierce County Council to the all volunteer Reject Amendment 1 committee.