Pinellas Charter Review Commission gets earful on term limits
The Pinellas County Charter Review Commission has barely begun its work, but it's already getting an earful on a longstanding, sore subject in county politics: term limits for county elected officials.
The 13-member commission, appointed largely by the county commissioners, has until next July to recommend what, if any, changes it thinks are needed to the county charter. Those changes would then go on the ballot.
Established in August, it hasn't done much work of substance so far — "mainly housekeeping," according to member Todd Pressman.
But at its last meeting, the panel heard nearly an hour of citizen comments on term limits.
County voters approved term limits in 1996, but after a long, tortuous legal battle, courts have prevented the limits from taking effect.
The comments came largely from a group that has been fighting for years to uphold the 1996 vote, some of whom went to court to do so. Some are affiliated with the county's Tea Party movement.
"We have a group of about 100 who are going to be turning up at these meetings continually," said one of the leaders, H. Patrick Wheeler.
But he charged that the commission "is absolutely stacked against those that want term limits," because most members are appointed by the county commissioners. "They have a vested interest in opposing term limits."
The commission includes one representative each from among the county commissioners, mayors, constitutional officers and legislative delegation — Commissioner Janet Long, Pinellas Park Mayor Sandra Lee Bradbury, Clerk of Court Ken Burke and Rep. Larry Ahern — and nine others appointed from among public applicants by the commissioners.
Long, a former state House member, is on record opposing term limits, saying it's a major cause of the dysfunction in the Legislature.
Pressman, a political operative, said he's open-minded.
Both said it's too early to tell which way a majority on the commission might go on the question.
Long said she believes the commission ought to consider what could become another touchy political subject: non-partisan elections for county commissioners and constitutional officers.