published Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Chattanooga City Council says no to term limits


by Cliff Hightower
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The City Council on Tuesday rejected proposals to move elections to August and November and to limit members’ terms.

The council voted 7-2 against both proposals.

“If something’s not broken, you don’t mess with it,” said Councilman Jack Benson.

Councilman Andraé McGary and Councilwoman Deborah Scott cast the only votes in support of the changes.

Scott had led the effort to put a referendum on November’s ballot allowing a vote on limiting council members to two terms and changing election dates. She has said she thinks voter turnout would be higher during August and November elections. Coordinating city elections with those in the county also would save money, she said.

The cost of city elections is about $100,000, according to the Hamilton County Election Commission.

Scott also said voters are tired of campaigns by the time city elections are held in March.

“They are fatigued as of November and they don’t want to see campaigning,” she said.

Some council members said the cost of campaigning also is higher during August and November election cycles. That can make it more difficult for candidates to raise money to beat incumbents.

Auditor redux

The council is set to vote next week on whether to add a charter amendment to the November ballot, and this is one voters already have decided on once before.

Some council members want to “tweak” the recent referendum creating an independent audit office for the city. Benson said he wants to change the number of votes required to oust the city auditor by the Audit Committee. Currently, removing the auditor takes votes from four of five members. Benson wants to change the votes needed to three.

He also said the auditor’s salary should be set by state market rates, not simply “market rates.”

David DiStefano, chairman of the audit committee, told the council the reason a “supermajority” of audit committee votes was included was to insulate the office from politics.

Benson disagreed.

“I think you over-excelled in insulation,” he said.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/cliffhightower or facebook.com/cliff.hightower.

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