Saturday, September 25, 2010

Campaign update #20


"I think the voters would be nuts to change the charter in West Palm Beach to increase the term for mayor, any mayor, not just Frankel. It is not and should not be about Frankel, but having been part of the long and difficult process to change the form of government in West Palm Beach to one more accountable to the voters, we studied a great many forms of government and looked at a great many other comparable cities. Given the power and responsibilities of a strong mayor form of government, which can be utilized in a very responsible way and is much accountable to the voters than a commission/manager form of government, two terms (eight years) is enough time to move a city forward (or backwards) and the position should NOT be one to allow someone a job for life."

-- Former West Palm Beach Mayor Nancy Graham in an email to the Palm Beach Post.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Campaign update #19


At the Sept. 15 mayor-commission workshop, Commissioner Bill Moss announced his support for a charter review commission to look over the charter and offer changes for a public vote in time for the March election.

A quick history lesson for context: Earlier this year when Mayor Lois Frankel decided she wished to upend West Palm Beach's voter-approved 8-year term limit on the mayor, her first move was to call for a charter review commission to suggest changes to the charter, including -- just maybe -- ditching the term limit. She stacked the commission with political allies and cronies and awaited their independent report. Everyone, including most notably the Palm Beach Post, saw through this and due to public outcry, the mayor pulled the plug on the commission before its first meeting on term limits.

It looked like there was still time, so she decided to put her anti-term limits proposal on the ballot the same way her constituents would have to do it, via the laborious process of collecting signatures to show a minimum threshhold of public support.

When she didn't find enough support she went to the commission and asked them to put it on the ballot anyway. The voting public -- known in the mayor's office as 'inarticulate' 'idiotic' and 'extremists' -- erupted and the commission declined the mayor's request on Aug. 9. It is now too late to do so.

So, the mayor's hench-persons went back to work collecting signatures, but it is summertime and very hot and, well, they still apparently haven't been able to get the signatures. Maybe they eventually will.

Now we hear of Bill Moss' idea to have a quickie charter review in time for the March ballot. We don't see how this can be used to secure a third term for the mayor, but color us suspicious.

For one thing, Moss is a reliable Frankel ally on the commission. But also he is a board member of the Florida League of Cities, a sort-of trade union for municipalities created to protect their institutional interests as distinct from -- and generally in opposition to -- those of the public. Naturally, the League hates term limits.

Often when politicians put popular term limits on the chopping block they try to attach some gimmick that gives some powerful interest an incentive in supporting the proposal. In New York, for instance, Mayor Bloomberg also proposed lifting the council members term limits when he lifted his own, therefore eliciting their support.

This common trick may be used here. One of the specific ideas Moss offers to add some sugar to the anti-term limits medicine, according to the Palm Beach Post, is:

"Giving commissioners longer terms. Currently, commissioners serve two years term. Both Douglas and Moss advocate three or four year terms for commissioners so they don’t have to constantly focus on elections."

This may or may not be a good idea. In fact, a review of the charter by a charter review commission itself probably is a good idea. However, being proposed as a rush job in the center of a contentious debate over the mayor's term limit, we suspect its inclusion may be more geared toward getting a commission vote on the mayor's term limit than public spiritedness.

Let's keep our eyes open.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Campaign update #18


According to a new national poll, 78 percent of Americans -- including 74 percent of Mayor Frankel's party -- support term limits on the U.S. Congress. The people's enthusiasm for rotation in office appears undimmed.

Of course, one might object that this does not say anything directly about mayoral term limits in West Palm Beach. But another new poll definitely does.

Recall that in New York City, a headstrong mayor who wanted a third term in spite of voter-approved 8-year term limits ignored the results of two popular referenda and had the New York City commission change the law to permit three terms. The uproar nearly cost Mayor Michael Bloomberg the next election, in spite of his incumbency and his billions. His approval ratings, once high, have never recovered.

Now, a new New York City poll shows 73 percent of New Yorkers plan on voting in November to reestablish (for the third time!) 8-year term limits.

Even Mayor Bloomberg seems to be showing remorse. While largely quiet about the issue, when pressed he did tell CBS News that changing the law to benefit a public official is wrong.

"No matter where you come out on it, you should decide what is best for the city, not what is best for any particular official," Bloomberg said.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Campaign Update #17


In her quest to overturn West Palm Beach's voter-approved eight-year term limit, Mayor Lois Frankel has been using a page from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's playbook.

The NYC case is particularly egregious, since the voters had affirmed their support for eight-year term limits twice (in 1993 and 1996) before Mayor Bloomberg tossed them over. After internal polling showed voters would yet again affirm term limits again in 2008, Mayor Bloomberg -- who desperately wanted to serve a third term -- decided to simply ignore the earlier referenda and lengthened term limits for both the mayor and council members from 8 to 12 years via a simple council vote. Sound familiar?

In any case, the furor over Mayor Bloomberg's coup was so great that New York City is going to put a referendum on the ballot in November this year to revert to two-term, eight-year term limits.

But here's the rub: the new eight-year term limits would go into effect upon the public vote, which means that council members will be permitted to run for two more terms. In other words, future New York City Councils will be limited to two terms or eight years, per the public's clearly expressed wishes. However, the current council members -- many of which are in their third term due to Bloomberg's coup -- will be limited to five terms or 20 years in office!

Is the mayor of West Palm Beach plotting something similar? Perhaps not, but we want to be sure. Here's the language of the amendment to the city charter being circulated via petition:

"Sec. 2.02. -- Term and Compensation. The term of the office of the mayor shall be four (4) years. No individual shall be elected to office of the mayor for more than three (3) consecutive full terms."

There is no stated effective date, so it is safe to assume the effective date would be on the day voters approve it, assuming they would.

What do you think? Does this language give the mayor the ability to run for one additional term, or three?


Speaking of the petition language, I would point out that the petitions being collected call for the city clerk of West Palm Beach to "place on the ballot the following proposed amendment to the West Palm Beach City Charter on the ballot in the general election."


Back in March when the mayor was still counting on a stacked charter review commission to deliver a anti-term limits referendum for her, Melissa Nash Andrews had an excellent letter to the editor printed in the Palm Beach Post. It is worth quoting in full:

"Term limits continue to be debated, even after overwhelming public support to limit the terms of Palm Beach County Commissioners. Term limits have been placed on 15 state legislatures, eight of the 10 largest cities in America have adopted term limits for their city councils and/or mayor, and 37 states place term limits on their constitutional officers.

"Term limits force out career politicians more concerned with their own gain than the interests of the people. I want to keep the pressure on the movement to preserve West Palm Beach term limits for mayor.

"Charter review? Sure. Term-limit modification? No thanks."