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Dunedin voters to decide whether to limit terms of commissioners

DUNEDIN — For the four candidates vying for two City Commission seats on Nov. 6, the ballots that residents cast for them aren't the only votes they have to worry about.

Residents also will decide on six proposed charter changes, including whether commissioners should be subject to term limits.

Under the proposal, the mayor and commissioners who currently can serve an unlimited number of years would be restricted to two consecutive four-year terms.

A term-limited commissioner, however, could run immediately for mayor under the proposal. But a term-limited mayor would be required to sit out two years before running again for either a commission seat or mayor. The reasoning is that a mayor is likely to have had prior experience as a commissioner.

The goal, according to the Dunedin Charter Review Committee that recommended the change, is to keep ideas fresh and encourage citizen participation in a process that tends to favor incumbents.

"Nationally, incumbents win . . . between 85 to 90 percent of the time. And, in many cases, if you didn't have term limits, the only reason someone leaves office is when they die," committee chairman Bill Francisco said last year.

"We think there are plenty of people in Dunedin who are capable of serving as commissioner and mayor and we'd like to provide the mechanism to encourage that."

While each of the candidates running for City Commission say term limits are a good idea, not all of them believe that they're needed in Dunedin.

Incumbent Mayor Dave Eggers, one-term incumbent Commissioner Dave Carson and political newcomer Heather Gracy said they intend to vote aye.

"I would support term limits, knowing they might be imposed on me," said Gracy, who is challenging Carson. "I think a community grows from new and different leadership. My motto is learn it, do it, teach it."

Said Carson, who is nearing the end of an almost four-year term: "I wish more politicians would have self-imposed term limits. … I think eight years is plenty."

Eggers — who has been in office nearly 10 years, six as a commissioner before he was elected mayor in 2009 — said term restrictions would help lessen the "intimidation" new candidates might feel when going up against incumbents.

"Sometimes it's nice to get nice, fresh looks at things and I think 16 years is a long time" to stay in office, he said.

If Eggers and Carson are re-elected in November and the term-limit provision is adopted, these new terms would count as their first under the new charter.

Eggers' opponent, Bob Hackworth, said he also supports term restrictions, but thinks they should be self-imposed.

Hackworth previously served seven years on the City Commission, including one term as mayor.

He said he was abiding by a self-imposed term limit when he stepped down in 2008 to launch an unsuccessful run for U.S. Congress.

In the years since, Hackworth had vowed to refrain from Dunedin politics, saying he was content watching new candidates carry out and improve on the changes he had helped implement.

Hackworth says he only entered the election fray this year as a result of mounting frustrations over what he sees as "City Hall's turn away from" transparency, responsible budgeting and sound policy decisions.

According to Hackworth, the U.S. Constitution didn't endorse term limits and neither should Dunedin.

"I'd like us to get back to a time when it wasn't necessary to regulate it. That's when citizen legislators stepped forward to serve their community, didn't give up their real jobs and when they were done they went back to their real lives," Hackworth said. "We already have term limits and that's to vote them out of office."

Dunedin's other referendum questions aim to:

• Spell out that commissioners must rotate the ceremonial "vice mayor" title each year — as they always have.

• Clearly define "conviction" — one of the measures that would force a commissioner to vacate office — as a determination of guilt, even if the commissioner pleads no contest or a court withholds the conviction from his or her record.

A charter committee member who practices criminal defense law suggested the change to bring Dunedin's charter in line with other cities.

• Require a four-fifths super-majority vote, rather than a simple majority, to hire or fire or determine salary for the city clerk.

• Require city leaders to act more quickly — within 60 days instead of 150 days — on citizen petitions.

• Allow commissioners to cancel one of the two City Hall meetings they hold each month. The change was suggested by Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski, who wants a more flexible schedule to allow for vacations for staffers and commissioners.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or ksummers@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Dunedin voters to decide whether to limit terms of commissioners 10/03/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 5:52pm]

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