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Largo City Commission turns down term limits

The charter amendment, which would have limited commissioners to two consecutive four-year terms, was dismissed unanimously.

The Largo City Commission struck down an amendment to the city charter Tuesday that would have limited service on the commission to two consecutive four-year terms.

The amendment would have placed a referendum question on the ballot in the November city election to allow Largo residents to decide whether to establish term limits.

The term limits were suggested by the Charter Review Committee, which convened earlier this year to make recommendations to the Largo city charter.

Charter Review Committee Chair Beverly Gatewood presented the amendment.

“The city of Largo is becoming more progressive, and now is the time for fresh ideas,” she said.

Gatewood added that term limits might attract more diverse people to run. All six Largo commissioners, plus the mayor, are white.

Commissioner Curtis Holmes said he has never been in favor of term limits.

“What are you going to do if you have people that are terming out and no one else has filed to run?” he said.

In the 2018 Largo city election, four incumbents ran unopposed for re-election. The election was ultimately canceled.

Gatewood said the money required to run a campaign is a barrier for many would-be candidates.

“Some of you have been on this board for years. You all have your people out there,” she said. “But somebody like me, I don’t have the means.”

Holmes and Mayor Woody Brown argued that city campaigns don’t have to be expensive.

Commission candidates must pay for each petition card signed, 10 cents a card for at least 200 cards. After qualifying to run, candidates pay 1% of a commissioner’s salary, roughly $135, making the total administrative costs for a campaign about $155.

Candidates in the upcoming city election have raised as little as $254 so far –– Jamie Robinson, an incumbent running unopposed –– to as much as $50,000 –– Eric Gerard, a Largo resident facing off against incumbent Holmes.

Brown said that many people support term limits because they’re thinking of the “big party politics” of Congress.

“I think if this resolution was put on the ballot, it would pass, in spite of all the good things we’re doing on the commission,” he said.

Brown is the longest-standing member on the commission. He became a commissioner in 2007 and mayor in 2014.

Holmes has served as commissioner since 2009. He is running for reelection in November.

The creation of term limits would not be retroactive and would not be applied to commissioners already on the board.

Commissioner Michael Smith, who is gay, said his fellow board members have been very welcoming. He offered to speak with anyone thinking about running for office.

Only 8 of the 25 municipal governments in Pinellas County have term limits. And Largo is the largest city in the county without term limits.

The commission’s decision to dismiss the amendment was unanimous.

“I think we’re all here for the right reasons, and we encourage others to run for these seats that are also doing this for the right reasons,” said Brown.