Chattanooga City Council weighs term limits

Chattanooga City Council weighs term limits

February 7th, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

Chattanooga City Council member Jack Benson, Sr., speaks out during a 2010 council meeting to vote on a 37 cents per $100 of assessed value tax increase.

Chattanooga Councilwoman Deborah Scott says she supports council term limits and thinks voters should be able to decide if they are a good idea.

"I think it's a good idea to have new ideas," Scott said last week.

She favors a limit of two terms, or eight years.

Her colleagues are split on the idea, which would require a vote by city residents to change the City Charter.

Council Chairman Manny Rico said the council "already has term limits."

"It's called an election," he said.

The council's Legal and Legislative Committee will discuss the possibility of term limits Tuesday.

Scott said the idea sparked in her mind as she talked with bright, ambitious people across Chattanooga who should be brought into government.

"It's possible you can get into a rut doing things you have always done," she said.

But Rico and Councilman Jack Benson countered that there's value in having longtime members with experience and institutional memory.

"It's not something you learn overnight," Rico said.

Benson said that, because the mayor is limited to two terms, it could be "very dangerous" to have people with limited knowledge on the council.

He said the most recent election, when six of the nine council members were newcomers, illustrated the pitfalls. The council spent time going over issues that previous councils already had vetted, he said.

WHAT'S NEXT

The Chattanooga City Council's Legal and Legislative Committee will talk about the possibility of council term limits at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

"There was a lot of wasted time getting up to speed," he said.

City officials said a charter amendment could be placed on the ballot for the next election, which is two years away.

Councilwoman Pam Ladd said term limits might increase participation in government and bring in people with new skills.

And longtime employees in city departments have institutional memory to guide council members on what has gone on in the past, Ladd said.

"That's why you have good staff," she said.

Contact Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CliffHightower.

POLL: Should city council terms be limited?