Woodside council discusses term limits in an all but empty room | March 7, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - March 7, 2018

Woodside council discusses term limits in an all but empty room

• The people should be initiating this, mayor and colleagues say.

by Dave Boyce

If Woodside voters are ever to decide on the question of whether members of the Woodside Town Council should be subject to term limits any time soon, the voters will have to get together and propose an initiative.

Mayor Chris Shaw on Tuesday night, Feb. 27, acting on a consensus of his colleagues, tabled a discussion on the subject to some future time. The action came in the context of a recent community survey, sent to approximately 2,400 Woodside postal addresses, that included a question on establishing term limits for council members. Of the 306 responses to that question, half were in favor of limits, according to a staff report.

Mr. Shaw tabled the discussion after some 30 minutes of arguments for and against the idea of the council putting the question on the November 2018 ballot.

Councilman Peter Mason got the discussion rolling by saying that citizens, not the council, should be taking the initiative to put the question before voters.

To be put on the ballot, a citizens' initiative requires the signatures of at least 10 percent of the town's registered voters, Town Attorney Jean Savaree said.

Councilman Dave Tanner, a longtime council member, agreed with Mr. Mason, adding that term limits are more appropriate for federal representatives. "It's guys like me who hang around and keep doing their job, all right, and we bring in some wisdom and stuff from the past," he said. "I don't think it should be up to us to put it on the ballot."

Councilwoman Anne Kasten said she was saddened by the survey's indications that many people were not paying much attention to what's going on in town. If voters aren't paying attention to matters of importance to the town and the council is paying attention, then it's incumbent on the council to form questions for the voters to consider, she said.

"We are here to do things we think are good for the long-term vitality of the town," Ms. Kasten said. "If we think that this is something the town should be pondering and vote on, then I think it should be put out there. I feel that very strongly."

Councilman Tom Livermore, with initial support from Councilwoman Deborah Gordon and Councilman Daniel Yost, argued for the council asking voters about term limits simply because half the respondents to that question indicated they were in favor of it.

Mr. Shaw, commenting on the weaknesses of an unscientific survey and that just 12 percent of the people polled responded, posed a hypothetical survey question: "Do you think we should abolish ASRB?"

The Architectural and Site Review Board has the difficult task of weighing whether a proposed project does or does not meet the town's standard of rural character. Board opinions are a source of frustration for some property owners, though there are reports of at least as many applicants who say they appreciate the board's input.

"Nobody's walked through the doors and said, 'You guys have been serving too long and need to go out," Mr. Shaw said. "This was a completely internally generated thing done in a very unscientific way. I respect the opinions that came in on this, very much so, but where are (the people)? This is a duly noticed meeting. It's an agendized topic. ... If people really care, they show up."

The mayor said he would be "delighted to have (a term-limit question) on the ballot were it to come up from the citizenry and have people in here saying, 'You guys are all a bunch of bums,' but it would be just as easy for them not to vote for us."

Ms. Gordon said she thought it obvious that term limits should be voted on. But she later appeared to come over to Mr. Shaw's side of the argument.

With term limits and with few people running for election, she said, the council could end up with empty seats. That situation could raise questions about the utility of the town's longstanding requirement that council members live in particular neighborhoods so as to represent the whole town.


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