- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Prince George’s County voters will weigh in for the third time in 22 years on whether term limits should restrict local politicians’ time in office.

The County Council voted unanimously Wednesday to place a measure on the November ballot that would increase term limits from two to three four-year terms for both the council and the county executive.

The county enacted term limits in 1992 as a wave of anti-incumbent sentiment swept the nation. Residents again voiced their support for term limits in 2000, with 64 percent of residents voting against a measure to repeal the limits entirely.

This time around, the measure headed to the ballot is a bit of a compromise, extending the length of time a politician could remain in office from two four-year terms to three.

Council members suggested their votes for the measure were a means to leave the issue up to voters, though some were more explicit than others in their underlying support for the term-limit extension.

“We are at a regional disadvantage because of our term limits,” said council member Andrea Harrison, District 5 Democrat.

She lamented that county leadership may struggle to work effectively with other jurisdictions in the region, which do not have term limits, because of the constant turnover and lack of continuity.

“We’re always starting over,” she said.

But residents who spoke out against the measure didn’t see it that way.

“I don’t believe that all of you as energetic, enthusiastic, young adults need more than four years on a learning curve to be able to implement and legislate,” said Sarah Cavitt, a longtime civic activist and former member of the county planning board.

The recommendation for the term-limits extension was made by an eight-person commission selected by members of the County Council and County Executive Rushern L. Baker III to vet the county’s charter. The commission was led by retired Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge William D. Missouri, who Mr. Baker also appointed to his ethics task force, and former County Council member Camille Exum.

Mr. Baker has long voiced opposition to term limits in the county, leading the effort to repeal the limits in 2000 when he served as a state delegate.

The day after voters rejected the measure, he told The Washington Times, “I’m not happy with the outcome. There probably will be another opportunity to vote on the issue again.”

While the charter commission members favored doing away with term limits altogether, they recommended extending the term “as an intermediate step.”

County Council member Mary Lehman disagreed with the notion that term limits should be done away with entirely.

“I don’t think people should serve five or six terms,” the District 1 Democrat said. “That’s a career, and I don’t think that’s what we’re meant to do here.”

She reasoned that voters were best positioned to handle the issue and supported putting it on the ballot so residents could make their opinions known.

“This is a difficult discussion to have, especially when you’re talking about an issue that I understand people are going to say this is self-serving, a move like this,” she said.

Though only two residents spoke out against the measure at Wednesday’s hearing, there were indications residents may still significantly oppose a repeal of the limits in place.

“It has been brought to my attention by many of the citizens within Prince George’s County that they’re not in favor of extending the term limit,” said Angela Holmes, president of the Prince George’s County Civic Federation, the same organization that in 1992 led the charge to get the term-limits measure on the ballot. “Eight years should be enough for the County Council and county executive to be in place.”

Prince George’s County is the only jurisdiction in the D.C. area with term limits, though others have tussled with the notion in the past. Montgomery County voters rejected imposing term limits in 2000. In the District, voters approved term limits for the D.C. Council and mayor in 1994, but the council overturned the referendum decision in 2001 before any politicians hit the limit.

Throughout Maryland, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard and St. Mary’s counties have some form of limit on at least one county elected office.

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