Term Limits Considered

Guest Post by Michael Chambers (guest posts are moderated, but not approved or endorsed by the CCA Steering Committee)

It looks like the question of term limits in Charlestown is dead for the foreseeable future. The Charter Review Committee floated up that issue in a public hearing and it was panned by the progressive extremists, other members of the Democratic Town Committee, and the Zoning Board of Review. Why would term limits work in other locales but not in Charlestown? Does it have to do with who is in power on the appointed boards and commissions? Most definitely yes. However, just for argument’s sake, the following should be taken into consideration before scrapping term limits.

1. In areas where term limits are in effect, complaints regarding the character of appointed boards and commissions are few and definitely less than in areas where term limits are absent.

2. Term limits favor meritocracy and downgrade seniority. Too often terms of ten, fifteen, or twenty years are common where term limits are not supported.

3. Term limits encourage volunteers. Where members are entrenched, the outlook for new volunteers declines.

4. It breaks ties to special interests. The longer members serve on a committee or board, the easier it is for special interest groups to gain influence among the members.

5. Term limits introduce fresh thinking, new ideas, and eliminates the boss mentality.

6. It facilitates the reduction of wasteful spending. Once special interest groups become influential, the committees become their sounding board, and often incur unnecessary expenditures to support special interests.

7. It terminates the good members along with the bad. This unfortunate consequence can be overcome by selecting the most qualified individuals for current openings, thereby maintaining a high level of expertise.

8. There would be a small amount of loss of knowledge and experience. Depending on the length of the term limits, this can easily be ameliorated and the transition can be seamless.

Had this question been proposed to the voters in November, it may have been voted in due to the voter’s native common sense. Basically, it is a simple concept that term limits keep ideas and personnel fresh and eliminates the ability of one group or special interest to dominate through undue influence. However, we won’t know if this is the case because those people already on appointed commissions in Charlestown are against the idea. Overall, the idea of keeping a fresh outlook, employing new ideas, decreasing the tendency for entitlement, and increasing volunteers has its merits. Keeping the appointed boards and commissions refreshed discourages one group from dominating all levels of government without public input. Losing some knowledge and experience is a reality that can be overcome by staggered terms.

Neverthelesss, losing good members is important and needs long and thoughtful deliberation. However, when the positive and negative consequences of term limits are considered, it would stand to reason that Charlestown should require term limits for all its appointed commissions, boards, and committees.