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Term limit rule blocks a good council member's return

Ardent supporters of term limits for members of the New Port Richey City Council should zoom in on what's happening in this year's city election and think about what it is likely to produce.

After six consecutive years on the council, Wendy Brenner must step down according to rules of the city charter, which limit members to no more than three consecutive two-year terms.

Brenner has been an outstanding council member. She isn't flashy, just pragmatic and intelligent. She can be easy to overlook at meetings sometimes because she has a tendency to sit quietly and listen. When she does speak, though, it's usually something worth hearing.

"To me, the most important thing is that when I'm debating on her side, or against her, I know that . . . she has her own mind," Mayor Peter Altman said. "She is an independent thinker, and she really cares and loves her community."

Altman said Brenner might be remembered as the council member who won New Port Richey's right to a vote on the board of the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority.

"If it happens, it will probably be because of the respect that she has earned for our city amongst the Tampa-Hillsborough-Pinellas-Clearwater crowd," he said.

Brenner earned respect at home too, by voting the right way on important issues. She supported downtown redevelopment. She voted to acquire and preserve 80 acres of undeveloped property along the Pithlachascotee River and has been a supporter of the city's other parks as well.

Council member Heather Firoentino said, "I think the city is losing a big asset with Wendy. (She) has done a wonderful job. She has always done her homework. She has been very good on the water issue and has been very helpful not only to New Port Richey but, I think, to the entire Pasco County area."

It just seems natural that the voters of New Port Richey, or any other jurisdiction, would prefer to choose whether to retain a council member like Brenner rather than automatically chase her off. What possible harm could come from choosing?

Brenner could run again in two years, but how is the city served by forcing her to take a break?

Term-limit supporters say it gives new voices a chance to be heard, but we aren't talking about Congress, where incumbents can exploit the office to unfair advantage.

Besides, even on Capitol Hill turnover is pretty steady without term limits.

The cost of running a local campaign in a city the size of New Port Richey is not prohibitive. Anyone who wants to toss their hat in the ring can do so and run a solid campaign at minimal cost.

Incumbent council members do enjoy greater name recognition than most challengers, but it is not an advantage that any strong candidate cannot overcome with a well-run campaign and some good ideas of his or her own.

Implicit in New Port Richey's term-limit rule seems to be the notion that change is good for its own sake. But this year's field of challengers proves just how wrong that is.

Either Frank Janczlik, Ron Ryner or Scott Bryant will be known as "council member" in a few weeks. It's possible, though improbable, that all three will be elected. But we know for sure that one of them will sit where Brenner used to sit.

We haven't published our candidate recommendations yet, and I don't want to jump the gun here. But anyone who pays serious attention to New Port Richey politics knows that trading in Brenner for any of these three is like trading a Mercedes Benz for a Yugo.

Even if the winning challenger turns out to be a pleasant surprise, it will be awhile before he gets up to speed.

"It took me awhile, and I'd been attending meetings regularly for a year and a half before I got elected," Councilman Ted Thomas said. "I had to learn the roles of the different departments, the financial part . . . and getting used to working on budgets and those things."

It's a shame, really, that New Port Richey won't at least have a choice of whether to keep Brenner on the council. April 8, just park the Mercedes and don't look back.